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U.N. envoy: Iraqi government could be set up soon

Handover process 'do-able' by end of May, Brahimi says

Lakhdar Brahimi spoke to the U.N. Security Council Tuesday.
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Lakhdar Brahimi

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The top U.N. envoy to Iraq said Tuesday that a caretaker government could be selected by the end of May, a month before the June 30 handover of sovereignty by the U.S.-led coalition.

Lakhdar Brahimi, who leads the U.N. mission, said that though the security situation remains "extremely worrying," the handover process is "do-able."

With the caretaker government in place by the end of May, he said, the body would have time to reach "crystal-clear understandings" on the nature of its relationship with the coalition forces that would remain in Iraq after the handover.

Brahimi also was adamant that the handover not be delayed, and said continuing with the current Iraqi Governing Council is "not an option."

"The sooner a credible Iraqi government is in place to lead the way, the better, especially because the absence of such a sovereign government is part of the problem in the first place," Brahimi said in a briefing before the U.N. Security Council.

"The job is do-able, as long as we set principled but realistic targets, moving toward them with deliberate steps, and if we are not alone as we take them. We will need, in particular, the Security Council to be united behind us, and with us."

Brahimi said the Iraqi people, working with the United Nations, should be able to select "honest and technically qualified persons" for the caretaker government.

The caretaker government would consist of a president, a prime minister and two vice presidents. The president would serve as the head of state, he said.

"What we are suggesting here has the merit of enjoying the support of many Iraqis with whom we have met, and is reasonably simple and straightforward," Brahimi said.

"Though it will certainly not be easy, we do believe that it shall be possible to identify, by the end of May, a group of people respected and acceptable to Iraqis across the country, to form this caretaker government."

The caretaker government would remain in place until general elections in January 2005. Brahimi said none of the members of the interim government should be allowed to run in the January elections.

Brahimi traveled to Iraq this month and met with politicians, civic and religious leaders, businessmen, female leaders and other figures. He has also discussed how to proceed in Iraq with numerous officials from other countries in the region.

"Virtually every Iraqi with whom we met urged that there be no delay in bringing an end to the occupation, by 30 June at the latest," he said.

Brahimi said many Iraqis suggested a national convention be held to help the nation come together after years of war and decades of iron-fist rule by Saddam Hussein.

He said the United Nations should help in bringing that convention to fruition, allowing about 1,000 to 1,500 top Iraqi leaders to gather. The soonest the convention could be held is July, Brahimi said.

Next January, he said, will be the turning point for the new Iraq.

"The elections scheduled to take place by January 2005 are the most important milestone in this process. Until that time, any Iraqi governing body that exists will be less than fully representative," Brahimi said.

Noting that "there will be potentially dangerous pitfalls and massive obstacles at every step of the way," Brahimi said it is imperative for the international community to help Iraq through this transition.

"A key question is whether a credible political process is even viable under such circumstances," he said. "I put it to you and the council, Mr. President, that there is, in fact, no alternative but to find a way of making the process viable and credible."

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