President Bush sent U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer back to Iraq with a stern message to “light a fire” under Iraq’s governing council to accelerate the political transition, a U.S. official said.
Bremer made an unexpected trip to Washington for meetings Tuesday and Wednesday with Bush and his advisers to discuss the deteriorating security situation and slow-moving political transition in Iraq. He returned to Iraq Thursday.
“Ambassador Bremer, with my instructions, is going back to talk to the Governing Council to develop a strategy. And he’ll report back after he’s consulted with the very people that we want to assume more responsibility,” Bush told reporters Thursday.
Several officials said the council’s work, in the White House’s view, has been stalled by personal, ethnic and religious rivalries.
Bush said he wants a plan for Iraq that will “encourage Iraqis to assume more responsibility” in running Iraq. Proposals include adopting an interim constitution and a new interim Iraqi leadership.
Until Wednesday, the White House position was that the U.S.-led coalition would not yield control of Iraq until free elections were held under a new Iraqi constitution.
In mid-September, for example, amid calls at the United Nations for the United States to yield power in Iraq more quickly, Bush said: “The Iraqis need to develop a constitution and then have free elections … and then we deal with the sovereignty issue.”
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice put a timetable, of sorts, on the process.
Rice said the U.S.-led coalition hopes to transfer more governing power to Iraqis “well short of a year” from now.
Rice said the Bush administration has never been committed to a specific form or mechanism for transferring power to Iraqis.
“We’ve always wanted to turn over authority to the Iraqi people as they built capability to take it on,” Rice told reporters Thursday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday the process # choosing members of the constitution writing committee, writing a constitution and holding fair elections – could delay the transfer of power longer than the coalition expected.
The latest U.N. resolution on Iraq, passed in October, requires the Iraqi Governing Council to set a timetable and plan for drafting a new constitution and holding democratic elections by December 15.
Talking to reporters after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Powell said the coalition is trying to find ways to speed up the process in a way that is acceptable to the governing council and other parties in Iraq.
Straw met with Powell to discuss Iraq and Iran and prepare for Bush’s visit to London next week.
Straw said the coalition wants to transfer authority to Iraqis as soon as possible, but that can happen “only if the Iraqis themselves consent to the process.”
White House officials and Bremer were reluctant to discuss details of the conversations in public.
Bremer said it is critical that he discuss the ideas first with the Governing Council, and the White House concern is that it not be seen as imposing a plan # and a new government structure # on Iraq.
While there is a sense of urgency about getting an option agreed upon, Bremer did not return to Baghdad with a specific timetable, a senior administration official said.
The meetings with Bremer came as the administration mulled a new CIA report warning that Iraqis are losing confidence in the U.S.-led coalition and are beginning to sympathize more with insurgents