Sharply divided over demands from Shiite Muslim and Kurdish members and undermined by worries over legitimacy, the U.S.-picked council members have been unable to agree on a method for picking the government or on central issues of sharing power supposed to be included in an interim constitution.
A top U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Monday that holding elections before June 30, as Shiite leaders seek, is impossible. But he insisted a provisional government must be formed in a way accepted as legitimate to all sides, warning that otherwise ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq will increase.
In other developments:
The killing of the alleged Al-Zarqawi associate, Abu Mohammed Hamza, took place Thursday in the western town of Habbaniyah, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said told reporters.
U.S. officials have offered a $10 million reward for al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, saying he is trying to build up a network of foreign militants in Iraq on al Qaeda's behalf.
U.S. troops distributing leaflets knocked on the door of a house, and Hamza opened fire from inside, Kimmitt said. The soldiers returned fire, killing Hamza, he said.
Several people were taken into custody, and troops found "a large quantity" of bomb-making materials and explosives, pro-Saddam Hussein literature and pictures of al-Zarqawi in the house where Hamza was killed, Kimmitt said. Hamza had a Jordanian passport, but officials were still trying to confirm his nationality.
U.S. officials have so far not determined who is behind the string of suicide attacks that have killed more than 300 people — mainly Iraqis — this year. Some have suggested al-Zarqawi is organizing the campaign, but others have pointed to Iraqi guerrillas loyal to Saddam.
"We believe al-Zarqawi has some associates around him and is reaching out to other disaffected organizations," Kimmitt said. "We don't believe he came into the country with a huge infrastructure, but he is trying to develop an infrastructure here."
Polish troops arrested nine suspected militants Tuesday in the Karbala region of southern Iraq, according to PAP, the Polish news agency.
"Six among the detainees, currently questioned by the coalition troops, are on lists of (people) suspected of direct terrorist attacks. This may be the people who took part in the attacks in Hillah and Iskandariyah," Gen. Mieczyslaw Bieniek told Polish reporters at the Polish camp near Hillah.
On Feb. 10, a car bomb went off outside a police station in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, killing 53 people. The attack in Hillah came eight days later, targeting a Polish base and killing 10 Iraqis.
Bienek did not give the suspects' nationalities.
Persistent violence against Iraqis and U.S. forces was one reason Brahimi recommended against holding elections before the June 30 handover of power. From the technical side, he said it would take eight months to organize an election once an election law is formulated — estimating that January 2005 is likely the earliest date a ballot could take place.
The judgment frustrated leaders of Iraq's Shiite majority, who had been leading the campaign for an early vote, and left open the question of how provisional government will be created.
Brahimi also ruled out the original U.S. plan to use regional caucuses to create the government, which he said Iraqis consider too easily manipulated by the Americans.
Council members discussed Brahimi's report Tuesday and will probably make a formal response in a few days — mostly likely requesting U.N. help, according to Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish Sunni member.
There is a "general belief" among council members "that the presence of the United Nations is essential" because it lends legitimacy to deliberations over Iraq's future, Othman said.
With elections ruled out, Shiites want the provisional government's powers to be tightly restricted.
"The government that will take over on July 1 will be a caretaker governor that has specific and limited authority and powers. The main task of this government will be to prepare for elections," Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shiite council member said.
In Najaf, an official from the Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which also holds a council said, suggested the Americans were afraid of the outcome of an election.
"Maybe the American administration is afraid that elections would give power to an Islamic current or to an independent current that doesn't serve its interests," he told reporters. "We think that is the reason for hindering elections."