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Coalition to assert authority in Iraq

Marines are patrolling part of the Iraqi-Iranian border

From Barbara Starr

Iraqi boys talk to U.S. troops outside Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital.
Iraqi boys talk to U.S. troops outside Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of ground forces in Iraq, plans to issue a proclamation within the next day reminding Iraqi politicians that coalition forces are the sole authority within the country until a new government is put in place, military sources told CNN.

McKiernan's proclamation is part of an effort to ensure local Iraqi politicians don't attempt to fill a power vacuum left by the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime.

There have been concerns about local politicians simply declaring themselves in charge of certain areas.

In particular there have been concerns within the military about Mohamed Mohsen al Zubaidi, an Iraqi exile who declared himself in charge of an executive council to administer Baghdad, and Ahmed Chalabi, another well-known exile who is engaging in political activities inside Iraq.

It is not clear if the proclamation will have any legal implications for U.S. forces -- specifically whether they would become the declared occupying force of Iraq under the Geneva Conventions and other international laws.

The United States has consistently said it does not want to be a formal occupation force. But under international law, occupation begins when territory is actually placed under the authority of an occupying force, according to the Pentagon.

Also under international law, an occupying power has the responsibility for the restoration and maintenance of public order and safety.

To the extent possible, an occupying power also is responsible for food and medical supplies and for allowing relief organizations to operate. The United States contends it is already living up to these obligations.

In another development, officials said Marines from the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, attached to Task Force Tarawa, are patrolling the Iraqi border with Iran along the length of the Wasit province east of Kut.

The patrols are designed to keep Iranian-backed dissidents from coming into Iraq. The Marines are under orders to search and interview people attempting to either enter or leave Iraq through Iran.

The Marines hope to locate and detain "all former regime officials, third country nationals and insurgents," according to a U.S. Central Command statement. The patrols will allow Iraqis who have fled to return.

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