MARGARET WARNER: At his Pentagon briefing today, secretary Rumsfeld said that an American team, headed by former General Jay Garner, would soon take charge of basic civilian services. But he said today's meeting of Iraqi political and religious figures was the opening step in helping Iraqis create a new government for themselves, beginning with what's being called an "Iraqi interim authority."
DONALD RUMSFELD: The makeup and responsibilities of an Iraqi interim authority will be up to the Iraqi people, but we envision that it could take on at least two main tasks.
First, it could allow Iraqis to have an immediate role in the administration of their country, including responsibility for running a number of the ministries.
Second, it could take responsibility for laying the foundations of a new Iraqi government, including formation of a draft constitution, the reform of the legal system, economic reform, electoral planning, and the outlines of a bill of rights to assure a just system that guarantees that all Iraqis... diverse population has a voice in the governance of their country.
The specific institutions of a new Iraqi government will be decided by Iraqis. A free society should really not be imposed from the outside. We can help by bringing Iraqis together, and by helping to create conditions of stability and security that are necessary for a free society to take root. But building a free Iraq is the right, and indeed the responsibility, of the Iraqi people.
Moreover, a free society is about more than just elections or specific institutions of government. Free nations across the world have different institutions that reflect their unique cultures and their traditions. What they share in common are certain principles that undergird those institutions: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, individual rights, equal justice under law, checks and balances, protecting minorities against the tyranny of the majority, and ultimately a government that is chosen by and answers to the people.
The interim authority will be a stepping stone in that process. This much is certain: It will be temporary. It will be large, involving Iraqis from all walks of life. And it will be open to participation by new leaders from across the country as they emerge from the shadow of Saddam Hussein's repression. It will evolve, to use the American phrase, from the "big tent" approach.
These meetings will help set in motion a process that will lead to an Iraqi government that does not threaten its neighbors or the world with weapons of mass destruction, that does not support terrorist networks, that guarantees the rights of religious and ethnic groups, that permits political freedom, individual liberty, and rule of law to prevail, so that no Iraqi is forced to live in terror or fear.