Members of the U.S.-appointed “Governing Council” convened publicly in Baghdad on Sunday.
According to a document released by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. authorities charged with running Iraq and headed by American envoy Paul Bremer, the council will establish needed departments and ministries; select diplomats to represent Iraq in other countries; set national economic, legal, education, electoral, and health policy; and consider appointing a commission for the drafting of a new national constitution.
In one of the first orders of business, the council on Sunday named April 8, the day Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad fell to coalition forces, a national holiday and abolished six Baath Party holidays celebrated by the former regime.
“The people have won,” former Shiite opposition leader Ibrahim Jafari said Sunday, according to the Washington Post. “After all of these years and all of the sacrifices we have made, we have taken the first step toward democracy.”
The Council members said they would start with meetings aimed at establishing a leadership structure, most likely a rotating presidency.
Though the Council has been assigned a wide area of responsibility, final say on all issues will remain with Bremer and the coalition authority. Bremer has said, however, that he would only consider overruling the Council in extreme cases.
“I don’t foresee that Mr. Bremer will ever cast a veto against any decision taken by the Council,” said Council member Adnan Pachachi, according to the New York Times. “We were assured that all decisions of the Council will be respected.”
The Council includes thirteen Shiites, 11 Sunnis and one Assyrian Christian. Five of the Sunnis are ethnic Kurds, five are Arab and one is an ethnic Turkmen, the Washington Post reported. Iraq is 60 percent Shiite.
The council includes some well-known opposition and exile leaders, some who lived for many years outside the control of Saddam’s government.
Ahmed Chalabi, head of the coalition exile group the Iraqi National Congress, is a member, as are a number of Kurdish rebel leaders from an autonomous area in the north that was protected by the U.S. and British warplanes in the years between the two Gulf Wars.
Other members include religious and former insurgent leaders from various parts of the country as well as professionals including doctors, lawyers, nurses, and university professors.
The new council begins operation during a period of increasing ambush-style attacks on coalition troops and newly trained Iraqi police.
An American soldier was killed in an attack and a Marine died in what was reported as a “non-hostile” incident Monday, bringing to 32 the number of American military personnel killed since President Bush announced the end of major combat operations on May 1.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces have launched the latest in a series of operations designed to root out remaining pockets of suspected Saddam loyalists and possible al-Qaida terrorists, whom U.S. officials say are behind the attacks.
The newest operation, named “Ivy Serpent” coincides with what would have been two Baath Party national holidays this week.