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Iraqi Muslims Demand U.S. Withdrawal

Shiite leaders have accused the United States of breaking a promise to turn over control of the country.

A little over a week ago, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the new civilian head of Iraq, arrived in Baghdad to lead what U.S. officials said will be an eventual transition to Iraqi control, a claim that has been met with skepticism by some key groups inside the war-torn nation.

“It’s a wonderful challenge to help the Iraqi people basically reclaim their country from a despotic regime,” Bremer told reporters after arriving in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on May 12.

A new United Nations Security Council resolution supported by the United States and comments by Bremer and other diplomats, however, have reportedly angered some Iraqi groups who say the United States intends to delay handing over power to Iraqis.

Under the resolution, the United States will take responsibility as the “occupying power” in Iraq and will work toward establishing an Iraqi “authority,” but will remain in control of the country, including overseeing oil revenues for up to 12 months or more, The New York Times reported on May 18.

The resolution will also reportedly lift previous sanctions imposed on Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule.

“The occupying forces will make the decisions, and the Iraqi people will only be consulted,” Abdel Mahdi of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a large Shiite group with ties to Iran, told the Times. “We think it should be the opposite, that Iraqi groups make the decisions and consult with the occupying forces.”

On May 16 Bremer and British diplomat John Sawers reportedly told a group of Iraqi leaders in a private meeting that the United States and Britain planned to remain in control in Iraq for an indefinite period.

“It’s quite clear that you cannot transfer all powers onto some interim body because it will not have the strength or the resources to carry those responsibilities out,” Sawers said after the meeting, according to the Associated Press.

British and American leaders are reportedly worried that an interim government installed too early would be unable to maintain security and might become dominated by religious fundamentalists.

Coalition forces have struggled to maintain order, prevent rioting and looting, and restore basic services in Baghdad and other major cities within Iraq.

The Iraqi National Congress announced Tuesday that it believes an Iraqi government will be set up by the end of June. The INC is made up of former Iraqi exiles and resistance leaders and led by businessman Ahmed Chalabi, a figure with close ties to the U.S. Defense Department.

Bremer has only said that he will continue efforts to setup an interim “authority.”

“An interim government is the only viable solution here,” an INC spokesman said. “We need a transitional period to democratize Iraq and to transform it into a civil society. We need two years to do that.”

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