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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Pledging to "accelerate and broaden" the formation of an interim government, a senior official with the U.S.-led occupying force in Iraq said Sunday that a political council of more than two dozen Iraqis would be installed to move the process forward.
The unofficial plan was announced after a meeting between officials with the U.S. administration -- now formally known as the Coalition Provisional Authority -- and the seven Iraqi political leaders who had been expected to form the core of the new Iraqi government.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted the new plan would not push those groups aside. But he insisted that "the next meeting we'll have in this process will be with a broader group."
"We're trying to reach out more broadly," the official told reporters. "It is very important that the council emerge as the face of the Iraqi people."
He expected the next meeting to be held in about a week.
Details on the plans -- which could create a framework for the creation of a new Iraqi government by midsummer -- were left deliberately vague. The official insisted that nearly all significant decisions would be made by Iraqis, or at least with significant Iraqi input.
In the months since the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq has lacked a formal government and been administered by its American-led overseers, both civilian and military.
U.S. officials say they want a quick handover to an Iraqi leadership, but weeks of attempts to go beyond the core group of political leaders have stalled. American civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer now says any interim government of Iraqis is unlikely until at least mid-July.
That core group includes a Shiite Muslim religious organization, two powerful Kurdish factions and the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella exile group.
Among the tasks of the extended council -- about 25 to 30 people -- would be to push this notion forward. It would set up a convention to draft a new constitution and put forward names of Iraqis to serve as key advisers to government ministries.
Those advisers, the official said Sunday, would eventually become ministers in an interim government. The council would also help form broad policy guidelines on such issues as education and trade.
The official said he hoped that would be done within six weeks, with the constitutional convention meeting at the same time. Eventually, a national referendum of ordinary Iraqis would be held to determine whether the constitution becomes law.
The official did not detail how the council would be chosen, except that it would be "through consultation" between the coalition authority with a broad range of Iraqis.
Given the political realities of postwar Iraq, though, it is impossible to overcome the influence of the U.S. occupiers. Ultimate authority will remain with the military coalition until an elected Iraqi government is in place, and no timetable has been set for that.
"We need to accelerate and broaden this process as we do move ahead," the official said. He added, though, that such plans remain up for debate.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)