Iraq’s transition plan in tatters
* Hillary Clinton in Baghdad, wants wider world role
* US soldier, former Iraqi general die
* Ex-Saddam bodyguard nabbed
* US okays more troops
BAGHDAD: The US-led coalition and interim Iraqi leadership were left scrambling for position on Friday after the powerful Shia hierarchy rejected their newly unveiled plans for an accelerated handover of sovereignty and demanded immediate polls.
On the record, US officials said only that they were considering the way forward after top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani rejected the arcane system of indirect selection by caucus they announced two weeks ago to get a caretaker government in place by June next year. But off the record, a senior official told the Washington Post that the prior polls, which the coalition has so far resisted, were now a “possibility” and appeared to give the top cleric a veto over the agreement they signed with the US-installed interim leadership on November 15.
“If he says no to the caucuses, then we have to figure out a way to get elections done,” the official was quoted as saying by the Post. “We’re scrambling to find a solution.” The Shia cleric’s demand hit at the heart of the coalition’s plans for a rapid transfer of sovereignty by highlighting the gap between its promises of post-Saddam democracy and its new plans to hand power to a government designated by a transitional assembly chosen by caucuses of selected notables.
“We’re going to discuss Ayatollah Sistani’s proposal and council president Jalal Talabani will inform him of the results of our discussions,” said council member Rajaa Khuzai, a Shiite secularist.
US President George W Bush met with four members of the council during his lightning stopover here Thursday evening and briefly discussed the handover. Bush told the travelling press that he had “reminded them ... that it’s up to them to seize the moment, to have a government that recognizes all rights, the rights of the majority and the rights of the minority”.
Former US first lady Hillary Clinton called for a wider international role in running Iraq, but doubted the US administration would cede much control in the country. “I’m a big believer that we ought to internationalise this, but it will take a big change in our administration’s thinking,” Clinton said during a nearly 10-hour visit to Baghdad where she met with US troops, military chiefs and civilian officials including US administrator Paul Bremer.
The US on Wednesday said it would send thousands of extra marines to Iraq. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has approved the deployment of three fresh marine battalions, the Pentagon said. The battalions will mean about 3,000 extra troops on top of those already planned for rotation with existing force in Iraq.
A mortar attack on a US base in Iraq killed an American soldier on Friday, hours after President George W Bush made a secret visit to Baghdad. A US soldier died from a gunshot wound he received while in barracks in the flashpoint western Iraqi town of Ramadi, the coalition press office said late Thursday.
Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a general of Saddam Hussein’s dissolved armed forces, has died under interrogation by US forces. Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a former air defence commander, died Wednesday morning, said the statement issued from the western town of al-Qaim in the troubled Syrian border region.
An Iraqi motorist was gunned down in error by US troops in the heavily guarded main square of this northern oil centre in the sixth such incident of recent months, police said. Two young Iraqi sisters were killed by US troops near Baqubah. Former bodyguard of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was arrested during a US army raid north of the hotspot city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad. —Agencies