Economía y Politica Internacionales
Powell rechaza una transferencia rápida del poder de Irak
Steven R. Weisman
Celeste Murillo, especial para P.I.
New York Times
Countering French, he says the process must have stages
BAGHDAD Secretary of State Colin Powell, pressed by France and by some Iraqis to agree to a speedier timetable toward self-government in Iraq, cautioned Sunday that the process of restoring sovereignty had to be carried out in stages and might not be seen as legitimate if the pace were overly rapid.
Speaking after a long day of meetings with leaders of the American-led occupation and with the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, which was handpicked by the American authorities, Powell also said he found that far more progress was being made in securing and rebuilding Iraq than had been indicated in news reports.
Powell said he was impressed by the determination of council members to gain control of their country as quickly as possible, and he said the United States fully supported them. ‘‘This is how you build a government,’’ the secretary said, describing a process in which Iraqis take on ‘‘more and more responsibilities’’ over time.
Refusing to set an exact time for this process as sought by France and the United Nations Security Council, Powell said it was important not to turn over responsibility to Iraqis until the government is seen as legitimate as a result of a new constitution and elections, which could take place well into next year.
‘‘We’re not hanging on for the sake of hanging on,’’ Powell said, adding that pushing the transfer to Iraqis too quickly would fail. ‘‘The worst thing that could happen is for us to push this process too quickly,’’ he said.
Powell’s day began before dawn in Kuwait with a noisy flight aboard an Air Force transport plane to Baghdad airport and then a helicopter ride to the Presidential Palace on a bend in the Tigris River that serves as occupation headquarters. Everywhere Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was greeted enthusiastically by servicemen and women who seemed to regard him as one of their own.
He traveled through a hot, dusty and brown city that has been returning to normal but one in which American compounds are walled off, fortified and isolated because of the bombing attacks since mid-summer.
As for the timetable for democracy, it is a matter of much discussion, notably because of France’s strong criticism and the desire by some Security Council members to speed things up in order to win France’s assent to a resolution to widen the UN’s role over security forces and reconstruction in Iraq.
In one version of what is possible, L. Paul Bremer 3rd, the chief American administrator, has said it is realistic to expect sovereignty to be restored in the middle of next year.
On Sunday the new Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said after a meeting with Powell that he thought it would be possible to hold elections and restore sovereignty by the second half of the year.
Though Powell was addressing Iraqis in his comments, it was obvious that his words were also directed at the debate at the United Nations over France’s demand that a new interim government be established in a month, and that the entire transition to democracy be overseen by the United Nations rather than the American-led occupation.
France, he said, ‘‘believes that we ought to do this as quickly as possible,’’ perhaps in a month. ‘‘The only real problem with that is that there is not yet a functioning government that you can turn authority over to,’’ Powell said.
According to an aide, Powell was more blunt at a meeting with Iraqi Governing Council members when one member raised the subject of France’s objection, noting that France opposed the invasion of Iraq in the first place.
‘‘We were right, they were wrong, and I am here,’’ the secretary was quoted as saying, a clear indication of the bitter tone the argument is taking.
Powell, after arriving from Kuwait, spent the entire day in meetings surrounded by extremely tight security. The overriding message the secretary said he had heard from Iraqis at the Governing Council and at the Baghdad City Council was gratitude for what the United States had done in taking over Iraq.
‘‘It’s really quite astounding how much has happened over the last few weeks,’’ Powell said at a news conference this evening with Bremer. ‘‘It’s really quite astounding how much has happened.’’
The secretary met with General John Abizaid, head of the central command, and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, senior military commander in Iraq. On Sunday evening he dined with the senior Shiite cleric in Baghdad, Hussein al-Sadr, a member of a prominent family with some members of the family having opposed Saddam Hussein and others have now opposed the American occupation.
But he did not leave his highly secure environment. Echoing occupation officials, Powell said that ‘‘the security situation remains challenging, but after the briefings I have had this morning I am confident that our new commanders understand the environment they are operating in, and they will be able to deal with it in due course.’’
Administration officials say those carrying out attacks on the occupation are divided into several categories: common criminals, disgruntled members and allies of the old regime and — a relatively new element — terrorists who have come in from other countries.
Powell said that intelligence reports he had seen put the estimate of outside terrorists as in the hundreds and perhaps 1,000.
The secretary said at an appearance with Zebari that the positive things happening in Iraqi ‘‘really don’t get out widely enough into the press.’’
Asked later whether that view was based simply on the official briefings he had received, Powell sounded a somewhat defensive note. ‘‘I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to go around town and ask people if they are unhappy, so come forward,’’ he said. ‘‘But I think I’ve been around long enough to understand the things I’m being told and to see behind the things I’m being told.’’