Archive for Friday, January 16, 2004

U.S. regroups as thousands protest self-rule plan for Iraq

January 16, 2004

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— Trying to salvage a timetable for Iraqi self-rule, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer was recalled Thursday from Baghdad for brainstorming consultations at the White House and the United Nations amid an American scramble to overcome growing Shiite resistance to the U.S. plan.

While the Bush administration said it intended to hold to its July 1 deadline for handing over control in Baghdad, large anti-American protests broke out in Basra. A leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, continued to press for direct, popular elections -- rather than the U.S. plan -- as the way to create Iraq's new government.

Iraqis protest while carrying posters of Shiite leaders including
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, right, the top cleric
of Iraq's Shiite majority. Thousands demonstrated Thursday in Basra
to support al-Sistani's demands for an interim legislature to be
elected directly, not chosen in provincial caucuses as called for
under a U.S. agreement.

Iraqis protest while carrying posters of Shiite leaders including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, right, the top cleric of Iraq's Shiite majority. Thousands demonstrated Thursday in Basra to support al-Sistani's demands for an interim legislature to be elected directly, not chosen in provincial caucuses as called for under a U.S. agreement.

Threatening the U.S. blueprint, an aide to the cleric said in Kuwait that if al-Sistani's advice was rejected, a Muslim edict would be issued to deny legitimacy to any council elected under the American plan. Even some Sunnis respect the Shiite al-Sistani, the aide said.

In light of al-Sistani's demands, U.S. officials said, the Bush administration is reviewing its plan for transition to Iraqi rule, a plan that would include American troops remaining in the country after July 1. Al-Sistani has a reputation for being a moderate, but his stiff stance has cast doubt on whether the administration's plan can be retained intact.

Administration officials were exploring compromises that would provide more direct voter participation by Iraqis on transition to self-rule and the role of U.S. troops.

Bremer was to meet today at the White House with Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser.

Monday, Bremer is to meet in New York with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi leaders to try to pave the way for the return of U.N. officials to Iraq and for a U.N. role in Iraqi elections.

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