Iraq 'Caretaker' Plan Proposed

Earthquake survivor Hotteline Lozama, 26, uses a phone as she was pulled out from the rubble by French aid group Secouristes Sans Frontieres in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 19, 2010. AP Photo/Francois Mori

Iraq should set up a caretaker government made up of respected figures, with a prime minister, a president and two vice presidents, to govern the country from the U.S. handover of power on June 30 until elections set for Jan. 31, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Wednesday.

Brahimi said he was "confident" that a government can be set up but said security in Iraq must "considerably improve" before elections happen, he said.

He spoke as April became the deadliest month for American forces since they set foot in Iraq.

U.S. warplanes and helicopter gunships firing heavy machine-guns, rockets and cannons hammered gunmen as a truce in besieged Fallujah was strained by increasingly intense battles.

Elsewhere, a 2,500-strong U.S. force massed on the outskirts of the Shiite holy Najaf for a showdown with a radical cleric, raising fears of a U.S. attack on the city that would outrage the nation's relatively pro-U.S. Shiite majority.

In other major developments:

  • The Pentagon plans to extend the combat tours in Iraq of more than 10,000 soldiers from a Germany-based armored and a cavalry regiment from Louisiana, defense officials said Wednesday. The move, which has not been officially announced, breaks a pledge given to all soldiers when they deployed to Iraq last year. They were told they would be kept there no longer than 12 months.

  • A Danish military intelligence analyst fired for leaking confidential reports said Wednesday that Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen lied to lawmakers in 2002 when he sought their support for a U.S.-led coalition to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Soeholm Grevil claimed that Fogh Rasmussen had been given several separate reports that showed no proof existed of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

  • With the announcement of the deaths of four more Marines, at least 87 troops have been reported killed in action in less than two weeks. Previously, November had seen the most deaths, 82. Roughly 680 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. Some 880 Iraqis have been killed this month.

  • A rocket hit the Sheraton Hotel in central Baghdad on Wednesday, where foreign contractors and journalists are staying, breaking glass but causing no casualties. A second rocket failed to fire and remained lying in the street outside.

  • The FBI, U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi security forces were working together to free several foreign hostages. Among those reported missing: four Italian security guards, two U.S. soldiers and seven employees of a U.S. contractor, including truck driver Thomas Hamill. A French television journalist taken hostage in Iraq has been freed.

  • The State Department confirmed that four bodies have been found in Iraq. CBS News has confirmed that the bodies are those of three American civilians and one soldier.

  • Japan, Australia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Estonia pledged to keep troops in Iraq, and Pakistan said it was weighing whether to send a force. The Philippines is considering a pullout, Norway will leave in June and Russia will begin evacuating specialists this week.

  • Iran said an attempt to work with the United States on Iraq was "going nowhere," and that Washington could not resolve the surge in violence without talks with Iraq's neighbors.

    Brahimi's proposals represented a stripped-down alternative to previous, more complicated systems for a new government, a subject that has caused sharp divisions among members of the Iraqi Governing Council and U.S. administrators.

    The differences were so difficult to overcome that the United States and Iraqi leaders called in the United Nations to find a solution.

    Past ideas had included expanding the 25-member Governing Council to make a body that could then create an interim government. But under the ideas outlined by Brahimi, the council would be disbanded once the June 30 target date is passed.

    Brahimi said the caretaker government would be "led by a prime minister and comprising Iraqi men and women known for their honesty, integrity and competence. There will also be a president to act as head of state and two vice-presidents."

    A "consultative assembly" should also be created, but not an interim legislature, said Brahimi.

    "I am absolutely confident that most Iraqis want a simple solution for this interim period," he said. "You don't need a legislative body for this short period."

    He called for a conference of "national dialogue" to be convened after the June 30 handover to create a "consultative assembly."

    Brahimi said legislative elections set for Jan. 31 would be "the most important milestone." There is "no substitute for the legitimacy that elections provide for," he told a news conference.

    The Marines called a halt to offensive operations on Friday to allow negotiations between U.S.-allied Iraqis and Fallujah representatives in an attempt to ease the violence. Gunmen in the city called a cease-fire Sunday. But Marines have been responding to guerrilla fire — and striking gunmen who appear about to attack.

    A U.S. Cobra attack helicopter fired rockets and heavy machine-guns before dawn Wednesday at gunmen in the city, and A-130 gunships pounded a row of buildings from which Marines say ambushes have repeatedly been launched.

    In the south, Iraqi politicians and ayatollahs tried to negotiate a solution to avert a U.S. attack on the city of Najaf, home to one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines.

    A vehemently anti-U.S. cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, was holed up in his office in Najaf, shielded not only by gunmen but by the presence of the city's main shrine only yards away.

    U.S. commanders vowed to kill or capture al-Sadr, though officials suggested they would give negotiations a chance. An envoy for the cleric said Muqtada al-Sadr has asked him to convey a set of proposals to U.S. officials, according to CBS News Reporter Lisa Barron.
    • Joel Roberts

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