Iraqi governing council set up

A new civilian governing council has been established in Baghdad with members drawn from Shi'ite, Sunni and secular backgrounds.

The council, which consists of 25 members, said that it would serve as an "expression of the national Iraqi will in the wake of the collapse of the former oppressive regime".

In a statement the council said: "The building of the new Iraq shall remain among the first priorities of the good Iraqi people. It will require the participation of all Iraqis, from all political and social strands, who are willing to help accomplish this historic task."

The body said that it aims to work toward constructing an "atmosphere for holding general elections that will lead to the establishment of an effective government enjoying full authority and responsibility and thus restoring Iraq's sovereignty and independence".

The group is intended to be an interim step in the development of Iraq's new government, and in about a year's time a greater assembly will draft a new constitution and national elections will follow from then.

During a White House meeting with President Bush, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed the development, saying: "Regardless of the differences that existed between nations before the war, now we have a challenge. The challenge is to stabilise Iraq, to help Iraq become a peaceful, stable and prosperous state, and I think everyone needs to help.

"An Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbours is in the interests of the neighbours and the entire international community. And so I would want to see the entire community, international community, come together to assist the Iraqi people and to help stabilize the region."

The White House said that it intends to "stay the course" and work to ensure success in Iraq.

"A free society requires a certain kind of responsible behaviour, and we're seeing more and more of that amongst the Iraqi citizens," President Bush said. "Our deep desire is to make sure that the infrastructure is repaired, that people are educated (and) that the health-care delivery systems are good."

However, the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has indicated today that US troops could be deployed in the Iraq much longer than was originally anticipated.

"(The president) said major combat operations have ended," Mr Rumsfeld said. "He did not say the war had ended. He did not say there would be no one else killed."

Mr Rumsfeld said officials believed that attacks could increase in July as there are a number of Baathist anniversaries during the month.

Elsewhere, a US soldier from the 3rd Infantry Division was killed and six others wounded in Baghdad yesterday when their convoy was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades.

In the north, Operation Ivy Serpent, launched July 12 to search for resistance fighters and organisers and weapons and ammunition, is yielding results, the US military has said.

Around 300 people – including several members of the Baath regime – have been captured and several weapons caches seized.

In the last 48 hours, US troops have confiscated 800 82 mm mortar rounds, 50 AK-47 rifles, and 26 rocket-propelled grenades, as well as several hand grenades.

The US is currently spending about $4 billion per month to maintain its 147,000 troops on the ground in Iraq.


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