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Iraq Could Have Elections Within a Year

Iraq Could Have Elections Within a Year

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council, struggling with questions about its legitimacy, could be replaced through general elections held within a year, Iraq's U.S. administrator said Thursday. Two American soldiers were reported killed as troops chased Saddam Hussein in northern Iraq.

L. Paul Bremer, a former diplomat and counterterrorism expert, said he believed a new constitution could be written and accepted by the Iraqi people in a referendum, followed by general elections by the middle of next year.

"It is certainly not unrealistic to think that we could have elections by midyear 2004," Bremer said while touring the partially refurbished Iraqi Foreign Ministry with members of the interim government he appointed on July 13.

"And when a sovereign government is installed, the coalition authority will cede authority to the government and my job here will be over."

In the past, Bremer has said a government could be in place by the end of 2004. His optimism was surprising given that it took the Governing Council more than two weeks to agree on a presidency, its first order of business.

When the 25 members were unable to select a single president, they tried to come up with a three-member presidency before finally deciding on a nine-member team that will each hold the presidency for a month, council sources told The Associated Press.

The legitimacy of Iraq's government is key to rebuilding the country. On Wednesday, World Bank President James Wolfensohn said it was unclear whether the council had the legitimacy to receive international loans.

"Clearly a constitution and an elected government would constitute a recognized government, but what do we do in the meantime?" Wolfensohn said during a one-day trip to Baghdad. "It's a subject that needs interpretation."

An elected government also would allay doubts among many United Nations members, who have been hesitant to send peacekeeping troops to an Iraq occupied and administered by the United States, which snubbed the international body by launching its war.

The United States said it had to go to war despite a lack of majority support on the U.N. Security Council because of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. So far, none have been found and Iraqi scientists insist they don't exist.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said members wanted a broader mandate in Iraq before agreeing to help pacify the still-violent country.

He said many U.N. member states felt that "the imprimatur of the United Nations -- the legitimacy the United Nations offers -- is important."

The United States would like international help in restoring peace to Iraq, where U.S. troops still come under attack daily.

A U.S. soldier was killed Thursday when his armored personnel carrier hit a land mine on the dangerous road from central Baghdad to the city's airport, the military said.

The mine exploded beneath an M113 armored personnel carrier, killing the soldier and wounding three others, the military said.

Earlier, the military reported the death of a soldier from small-arms fire northeast of Baghdad late Wednesday.

The deaths brought to 51 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. So far, 166 American forces have been killed in the Iraq war, 19 more than in the 1991 Gulf War.

The assault late Wednesday occurred near Baqouba, in an area where U.S. troops have come under repeated attack recently. It is in the so-called "Sunni Triangle," a heavily Sunni Muslim area to the north and west of Baghdad where support for Saddam has been strongest.

Wednesday's death broke a period of relative peace. No U.S. soldier had been reported killed in combat in Iraq in more than 48 hours.

In Baghdad, Iraqis witnesses reported an attack on two U.S. trucks carrying unexploded ordnance to Baghdad International Airport for destruction. The witnesses said a rocket-propelled grenade was fired on one truck and the ordnance exploded. A U.S. armored vehicle could be seen burning on the road.

Witness Ali Khamid said he saw two U.S. soldiers taken away by helicopter and two others, faces covered, loaded into an ambulance. The military said it had no information on the incident.

U.S. forces have been conducting daily raids in search of Saddam, and said it was "just a matter of time" before he is caught.

"He's going to start making mistakes, and we're going to catch him," said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a U.S. Army spokeswoman in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown. "We estimate he's not staying more than four hours at the same place. But the man's been a master of hiding all his life."

Lt. Col. Ted Martin said Saddam and his aides were running scared.

"It would not be a good idea for him to be stationary for very long," he said. "Every time a helicopter flies over, I bet they shake."

Bremer spoke during a tour of the Foreign Ministry building, which the United States has been helping to renovate after heavy looting and arson gutted the structure in the chaos that followed the U.S. military's entrance into Baghdad.

He told gathered Iraqi diplomats that the establishment of a new government would mark the end of his diplomatic career.

"Although that will mark my final retirement as a diplomat, it will mean that you, the diplomats of Iraq, will be going forward representing a fully sovereign government," he said.

In a hopeful sign, oil ministry and industry sources told Dow Jones Newswires that Iraq's Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline, at a standstill since April, is due to start pumping again in early August.

The pipeline, which runs from Iraq's northern oilfields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, will pump 200,000 barrels a day, they said. The pipeline would increase Iraq's oil exports to at least 850,000 barrels a day, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

Iraq is producing about 1.3 million barrels of crude oil a day, compared with about 2.5 million barrels a day before the war.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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