Bush Iraq plan met with skepticism

WASHINGTON – President Bush’s plan for transforming Iraq metresistance from European leaders and some Iraqis on Tuesday asskeptics pressed for more details on the planned transfer of powerto an interim Iraqi government.

A senior Bush administration official in Baghdad said U.N. envoyLakhdar Brahimi is “on course” to announce by Monday or Tuesday themake-up of an Iraqi interim government, and officials in Washingtonsaid one name, that of Iraqi nuclear scientist Hussain Shahristani,was in the “final running” to be prime minister.

But even as Brahimi goes through a “handful” of names for thepositions of president, two vice presidents, prime minister and 26Cabinet ministers, there were still open questions about how muchcontrol the interim government will have over Iraqi and U.S.military forces.

Disputes over the role of those troops soured the outlook forswift international endorsement of the plan Bush outlined Mondaynight in a speech at the U.S. Army War College.

Several European leaders called for more restraints on theU.S.-led forces that will remain after next month. British PrimeMinister Tony Blair, Bush’s closest European ally, seemed to splitwith the White House by suggesting that the interim governmentshould have veto power over U.S. military operations in Iraq.

“That has to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government,and the final political control remains with the Iraqi government,”Blair told reporters in London. “That is what the transfer ofsovereignty means.”

French President Jacques Chirac told Bush that a U.N. resolutionshould give Iraqis a role in military decisions.

Bush’s plan would give the caretaker government controlof most domestic issues and Iraq’s own weak security forces, butultimately leaves Iraq’s security in U.S. hands until beefed-upIraqi security forces are ready to take charge. Bush said the138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq would stay “as long as necessary.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell, asked about Blair’s remarks,said that even if Iraqi authorities object, “U.S. forces remainunder U.S. command and will do what is necessary to protectthemselves.”

Bush’s plan calls for a force of 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, policeand other security personnel, including a 35,000-member army. Onlyabout 10 percent of Iraqi police will be fully trained by the June30 handoff.

In Iraq, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council also calledfor Iraqi control over the U.S.-led coalition force.

“What President Chirac and others have said is they want to makesure that the transfer of sovereignty to the interim government isa real transfer. And that’s what we want,” Bush told reporters.”We’ll help by making sure our security forces are there to workwith their security forces.”

“At the end of the day, what you have is legal authority beingshifted to an interim government of questionable legitimacy andlittle power,” said Lee Feinstein, a senior fellow at the Councilof Foreign Relations. “You’ll have de facto American sovereignty byremote control.”

Anthony Cordesman, a leading Iraq expert at the Washington-basedCenter for Strategic and International Studies, said Bush’s planwas more like a litany of good intentions. It left out key detailsor made rosy assumptions on security, the political transition,economic rebuilding and training Iraqi forces, Cordesman said in anine-page critique.

The president “has outlined a high-risk strategy,” Cordesmansaid. He “did not address these risks in any detail or with anyobjectivity.”

One key problem Bush failed to address “is the lack of anythingapproaching a popular government a little over a month before thetransfer of power,” he said.