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Bush Supports Replacement For Iraqi Governing Council

By Steven R. Weisman And David E. Sanger

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The Bush administration accepted Thursday the outlines of a U.N. proposal to dissolve the Iraqi Governing Council installed last year by the United States and replace it with a caretaker regime when Iraqi sovereignty is restored on July 1.

Administration officials said that the proposal by Lakhdar Brahimi, the special U.N. envoy in Iraq, to create a government of prominent Iraqis had many details to be worked out, but that for now it was acceptable to President Bush.

“I don’t see anything at this point in what he’s proposing that would be of concern to us,” said Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, in an interview, adding that Brahimi’s mission “thus far has been very successful.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also supported the plan, while Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it was likely to become a reality without explicitly approving it.

The Brahimi plan would replace the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council with a transition government whose leaders would be appointed by the United Nations, after consultations with the United States, the governing council and other Iraqis. It could include members of the current governing council, but it is unclear how it would balance religious and regional rivalries within Iraq.

By endorsing the Brahimi plan, the administration seemed to accept diminished American influence over the Iraqi political process as self-rule approaches and after power has passed back to Baghdad.

But administration officials asserted that, even with the United Nations overseeing the selection of a caretaker government, and then for holding an election and writing a constitution, American influence on the process would be considerable -- not least because the United States is to remain in charge of military and security matters, and will be the country’s main source of economic aid.

In addition Rice’s chief deputy for Iraq, Robert Blackwill, has been working side by side with Brahimi in Iraq to come up with the plan proposed on Wednesday, several officials noted. The surge of violence in Iraq in recent weeks effectively forced Bush’s hand, administration officials said. They acknowledge that any new plan had to be proposed by the United Nations and bear no obvious stamp of American influence.

American, European and U.N. diplomats all said that the Brahimi plan will likely give the United Nations a major role, and perhaps the leading role, in superintending the process of building democracy in Iraq.

“What he has come up with is an idea that he thinks will work,” Rice said, referring to Brahimi. “In May he will have an actual proposal, but we have no objections thus far to what he has proposed.”

Powell told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that Brahimi’s proposal “reflects some very, very good thinking” and “a great deal of wisdom and experience” on his part, though he noted that the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, now needed to give his blessing.

Administration officials, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issues, said that they were concerned that at least some members of the current Iraqi Governing Council would try to block Brahimi’s proposal or jockey to make themselves a part of it.

“There are clearly some politics in Iraq, and the Governing Council is part of that politics,” said an administration official. “It isn’t a matter of us telling Brahimi what to do. It’s a matter of what he thinks is right and of his being aware of what we think will be effective.”

The 25-member Iraqi Governing Council was the product of efforts led by L. Paul Bremer, the American occupation administrator.

At the time, American officials praised it as representative of Iraqi aspirations and perhaps even the most representative government in the Arab world. Since then, however, the council has lost much credibility in Iraqi society, American officials say.

In recent weeks, there were signs, however, that American officials remained wedded to keeping the council, in an expanded version.

Powell said only two weeks ago that an expanded version of the council was the most likely alternative.

Some American officials say that Ahmad Chalabi, an exile favored by the Pentagon, could be marginalized as a result of the new plan. Aides to Brahimi make no secret of the envoy’s disdain for Chalabi.

Rumsfeld is described by knowledgeable diplomats as still favoring a major role for Chalabi in Iraq.

Rumsfeld said that since the Brahimi plan was deemed “a reasonable one” by State Department and White House officials, “the odds favor a model something like what Brahimi announced.”

Brahimi, a veteran of peacekeeping operations, most recently was in charge of putting together a government in Afghanistan, for which he won widespread praise.