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U.S.: No Quick Handover In Iraq

The top American official in Iraq said Monday that the Iraqis are not ready to rule themselves and rejected any quick handover of sovereignty before a constitution is drawn up.

Also Monday, a suicide bomber, his body wrapped in explosives and his car filled with 50 pounds of TNT, struck a police checkpoint outside U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing an Iraqi policeman and himself. Nineteen people, including two U.N. workers, were wounded in the attack.

The Iraqi Governing Council set up by U.S. officials has been pressing to win sovereignty as an interim government in Iraq. At the same time, France and Germany are leading a push to give the United Nations more authority in Iraqi reconstruction and to set a timetable for handing over power to the Iraqis in a matter of months.

But L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, said he opposed any quick transfer of power to the Iraqis.

Asked on the CBS News Early Show if he thought the Iraqis were ready to rule themselves, Bremer replied: "No, they're not."

"The path to sovereignty is very clearly laid out," he said. "There must be a written constitution…There must be a written constitution followed by democratic elections. That will then lead to a fully sovereign Iraqi government. This will happen as quickly as Iraqis can write the constitution."

In other developments:

  • President Bush, in an address Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly, was expected to offer an expanded role in rebuilding Iraq, a condition set by many nations for contributing peacekeepers and money to the reconstruction effort. He was also to assert that the war in Iraq was right. will offer a live Webcast of the address and CBS News will broadcast the event.
  • Aquila al-Hashimi, one of three women on the Governing Council, was reported to be improving Monday, after being shot in the abdomen by six gunmen who chased her two-car convoy as she left home.
  • Robert E. McKee, executive vice president of ConocoPhillips until April, will take over oil operations in Iraq from Philip J. Carroll, a retired chief executive of Shell Oil Co.
  • The chairman of a global development committee said Monday that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank should withhold any loans for Iraq until the United Nations recognizes a government there.
  • British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon denied the government conspired to publicly identify a weapons adviser caught in a political storm over the government's case for war in Iraq. The arms expert, David Kelly, killed himself.
  • The United States agreed Monday to lend Turkey $8.5 billion to support its shaky economy, while insisting it was not trying to buy Turkish soldiers to help out in Iraq.

    A key official in the U.S.-led coalition told The Associated Press that Bremer would veto any move for sovereignty by the 25-member Governing Council. He would also block any council attempt to set up a militia to replace U.S. troops as Iraq's primary security force.

    "Ambassador Bremer will definitely say no to both proposals if they're adopted by the council," said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. "He'll not budge on issues impacting on the long-term, political future of Iraq."

    Bremer has the right of veto over council decisions, while U.S.-led coalition forces have the ultimate responsibility for security.

    Dan Senor, a Bremer spokesman, told reporters Friday that it would not be in Iraq's interest to ignore a process laid out by Bremer — a seven-step plan for a new constitution and a freely elected government by the end of 2004 or early in 2005.

    Many Iraqis view the council as a toothless body serving as a front for foreign occupation. While members accurately reflect the ethnic and religious makeup of Iraq — a first for any Iraqi government body — many of them were unknown to Iraqis until the council's formation in July.

    In an interview with The New York Times published Monday, French President Jacques Chirac called for the transfer of power in a two-step plan that would consist of a symbolic power shift from the Americans to the Governing Council, then a gradual transfer of real power over a period of six to nine months.

    "There will be no concrete solution unless sovereignty is transferred to Iraq as quickly as possible," Chirac said.

    Chirac said France would vote in favor of the U.S. resolution only if it came with a timetable and deadline for the transfer of power to the Iraqis, and included a "key role" for the United Nations. Without those provisions, he said, France will abstain.

    A U.S. military spokesman at the scene of the bombing said the bomber was trying to get into the U.N. compound at the Canal Hotel, where a massive truck bomb a month ago killed 23 people including the top U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

    The bomber was blocked at a newly established police checkpoint on a street in back of the compound. As police inspected the bomber's car, he detonated the explosives. The detached arm of a blast victim lay more than 100 yards away. The hood of the bomber's car was blown 200 yards distant.

    Authorities identified the slain policeman as 23-year-old Salam Mohammed. A U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said six people had not been accounted for.

    Praising new security arrangements around the hotel, a U.S. military officer at the scene credited the Iraq police with preventing an even greater tragedy.

    "I reiterate that he was not through the checkpoint, and he was not near the U.N. compound. That means security is working," said Capt. Sean Kirley of the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.