Iraq Cleric Mulls Election Delay

Iraqis protest in the streets of the southern city of Basra carrying posters of Shiite leaders including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani , far right, the top cleric of Iraq's Shiite majority Thursday Jan. 15, 2004. AP

Iraq's top Shiite cleric, who has insisted elections are necessary for a transfer of power on June 30, suggested he would accept a delay in voting but demanded U.N. guarantees that there will be no more postponements.

Still, many Shiites Muslims on Friday rejected a U.N. recommendation against early elections to shift power from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraqis, and insisted on a vote to create the next government.

With early elections apparently off the table and most Iraqi leaders opposed to the original U.S. plan to pick a provisional government before the June 30 deadline using regional caucuses, Iraq's Governing Council and American administrators were trying to work out a new method.

The alternative preferred by the United States is to expand the 25-member Governing Council and hand it power on June 30 until elections can be held, according to Washington officials. Though the coalition would hand over power, the United States expects it to keep some 100,000 troops in Iraq for at least another two years.

In other developments:

  • Insurgents killed two American soldiers Thursday in a roadside bombing west of Baghdad as the United States was reportedly ready to make major changes in its blueprint for handing over power to a new Iraqi government.

  • U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said that the formula for establishing a new Iraqi government could be changed but the date for the U.S.-led coalition to hand over power remains firm. Bremer also said the Iraq's new basic law must be based on secular democratic principles; he has resisted calls for the laws to have an Islamic character.

  • The top U.S. military officer, Gen. Richard Myers, said he could not estimate with confidence how long American forces will have to stay in Iraq. For planning purposes, the Army is assuming it will have to keep roughly 100,000 troops in Iraq for at least another two years, other officials have said.

  • The Pentagon is preparing a report on the 22 suicides among U.S. troops in Iraq last year, where soldiers took their lives at a 20 percent higher rate than average. That number does not include cases under investigation or at least two suicides by troops who've returned home, The Washington Post.

  • Richard Perle, an architect of the Iraq war, called for the heads of the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency to step down over faulty prewar reporting, the Toronto Star reports. He claims administration officials did not skew the intelligence they received.

  • British police were not justified in detaining dozens of protesters headed to a demonstration against the Iraq war at a base used by U.S. B-52 bombers last year, two High Court judges ruled.

  • India says it will help in the reconstruction of Iraq only after political control is returned to Iraqis.

  • A group of Iraqi landowners in a dispute over rent for land where the Japanese are building a military base called off a protest and agreed to continue negotiations. According to the group of landowners, they were offered $100 per year for each acre. They had demanded five times that amount.

  • Britain said it will give 65 million pounds ($122.8 million) of previously earmarked reconstruction money for Iraq to an international fund managed by the World Bank and the United Nations.

    • Joel Roberts

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