US To Help Ink Iraqi Constitution

The United States will help write an interim Iraqi constitution that "embodies American values" and will lead to the creation of a new government, America's chief postwar administrator in Iraq said Sunday.

"We'll have a bill of rights. We'll recognize equality for all citizens. We'll recognize an independent judiciary. We'll talk about a federal government," said L. Paul Bremer in a broadcast interview.

"All of these things will be in the interim constitution which will also provide in a limited time, probably two years, for a permanent constitution to be written that also embodies those American values."

In other developments:

  • The U.S. military is investigating whether insurgent groundfire caused the crash of two U.S. helicopters Saturday, killing 17 American soldiers, the worst single loss of U.S. life since the start of the Iraq war.
  • The CIA has found no evidence that former president Saddam Hussein tried to transfer chemical or biological technology or weapons to terrorists, according to an intelligence expert. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies revealed the findings in a report based on briefings from key U.S. officials.
  • The new accelerated plan for restoring self-rule in Iraq by June does not mean U.S. troops will withdraw anytime soon, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday. The United States continues to plan to rotate a new contingent of troops into Iraq next year, with no final pullout date set yet, he said. "This has nothing to do with U.S. troops and coalition troops in Iraq," he said.
  • An audio tape purportedly made by Saddam Hussein told Iraqis on Sunday that the United States and its allies misjudged the difficulty of occupying Iraq and that Iraqis will rebel against their "evil intentions." In an apparent reference to the U.S. plan to speed the transfer of political power to Iraqis, the voice said attacking "agents brought by foreign armies" takes precedence over attacking those armies. That appeared to be a call for his followers to target Iraqis working for the coalition. The tape was broadcast on the Arabic language television station Al-Arabiya which is widely seen in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

    Bremer said Americans will work with the Iraqi Governing Council in writing the interim constitution. There will also be a side agreement dealing with security and the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, he said.

    While the U.S.-led occupation will end, Bremer said the presence of coalition forces will not. "Our presence here will change from an occupation to an invited presence," he said. "I'm sure the Iraqi government is going to want to have coalition forces here for its own security for some time to come."

    Bremer noted that in a broadcast interview President Bush has said the United States will not "cut and run" from Iraq. But Bremer said the length of time that U.S. troops will be there will be negotiated with the coming Iraqi government.

    That agreement, he said, "will provide for our continued presence in Iraq to help them stabilize their country and to help them stay at peace with their neighbors. They have some pretty rough neighbors, and they're going to need our assistance, I think, for some time."

    President Bush says the United States will not spend "years and years" in Iraq as a new government takes shape to replace Saddam Hussein.

    "… We think the Iraqi people are plenty capable of running their own country, and we think they want to run their own country," Bush said in a broadcast interview taped Wednesday that aired today.

    "This is nothing more than a power grab," he said about the recent violence that has pushed the U.S. death toll on Saturday passed 400. "There are some foreign fighters — mujaheddin types or al Qaeda, or al Qaeda affiliates involved, as well…. They've got a different mission; they want to install a Taliban-type government in Iraq, or they want to seek revenge for getting whipped in Afghanistan. But nevertheless, they all have now found common ground for a brief period of time."

    The Senate's top Democrat, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, expressed concern about what he said was the deteriorating situation in Iraq today.

    "I don't know that we can say we're losing. ... I'm not sure we're winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people today, and that's of a real concern," he said in a broadcast interview. "I think the president needs, first and foremost, a plan for success, not an exit strategy. I think they're putting too much emphasis on exit and not enough emphasis on success," he said.

    A U.S. military official at the scene of Saturday's helicopter crash said that one of the choppers was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, reports CBS News Reporter Charles D'Agata. Iraqi eyewitnesses say that chopper then collided with the second Black Hawk, bringing both down.

    If it was an attack that brought them down, it would bring to 39 the number of coalition troops who have died in helicopter attacks in the past three weeks.

    Before the crash, the U.S. military's deadliest incident was the downing of a Chinook transport helicopter on Nov. 2 that killed 16 soldiers. A Black Hawk was also shot down on Nov. 7, killing all six soldiers on board.

    There were days early in the war in which more soldiers died, but they were spread over several attacks or accidents.

    Violence in the area continued on Sunday. A roadside bomb exploded in Mosul, hitting an Iraqi minibus, slightly injuring four people, Iraqi police said. There were no U.S. troops in the area of the blast.

    The crash put the number of American casualties since the March invasion at 417.

    On Saturday, the Iraqi Governing Council endorsed a U.S. plan that would create a provisional government by June. The transfer of power would provide Washington with an "exit strategy" in the face of escalating guerrilla warfare.

    The plan reflected Washington's desire to speed up the handover of power as attacks against American occupation forces grow more sophisticated and deadly. The Bush administration dropped its insistence that a constitution be drawn up and elections held before the transfer takes places.

    However, one of the 24 members of Iraq's Governing Council warned that "execution of the plan won't be easy" without improvement in the security situation and a revival of Iraq's economy.

    CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports the Sunni minority who ruled under Saddam is almost certain to lose both power and prestige.

    "It's an explosive situation," Palmer observes. "A bitter internal power struggle in Iraq could make violence and insecurity across the country even worse."

    Nonetheless, points out CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller, if the new timeline is realized, it would mean sovereignty could be transfered to Iraqis well before President Bush goes before the voters next November.

    A senior official denies to Knoller that politics at home is driving U.S. policy in Iraq. But Knoller says no one at the White House disputes that the more quickly Iraq is stabilized, the better Mr. Bush's chances for a second term.

    The council, which has acted as Iraq's interim administration since it was appointed in July, announced a set of deadlines that would give Iraq a provisional national assembly by May, a transitional administration with full sovereign powers in June and an elected government before the end of 2005.