BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's new Governing Council (search) decided to set up special courts to try former members of Saddam Hussein's regime who are accused of involvement in mass executions, torture and other human rights violations.
But the New York-based Human Rights Watch (search) challenged the council's plan, saying justice would not be served if victims of Saddam's regime judge their tormentors.
The council will send a three-member delegation to the U.N. Security Council on July 22, when the top U.N. envoy is scheduled to update members on the U.N. role in post-war Iraq, U.N. officials and council diplomats in New York said Tuesday.
The U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said the process of rebuilding the Iraqi political system was already under way with the establishment of the 25-member council -- the first national postwar Iraqi political body, largely hand-picked by him.
"The next step is the launching of a process to write a new constitution for Iraq. ... Once approved, democratic, free and fair elections can be held in Iraq for a fully sovereign Iraqi government. Then our job, the coalition's job, will be done," Bremer said.
"We have no desire to stay a day longer than necessary," he said. "The timing of how long the coalition stays here is now in the hands of the Iraqi people."
The Governing Council, whose members were selected rather than elected, is meant to be the forerunner of a 200-250 member constitutional assembly that is planned to start drawing up a draft constitution in September. That process is expected to take nine months to a year and free elections to pick a government are expected to follow.
But even talk of removing coalition soldiers from Iraq seemed premature while guerrilla-style attacks against U.S. forces are increasing and many major countries are balking at the idea of sending peacekeepers to replace exhausted American troops.
Many soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division had thought they'd be home this summer, but their hopes were dashed in an Army e-mail to spouses Sunday.
"I'm tired of waking up wondering if this is the day I'm going to die," said Myers, of Tampa, Fla. "We've been here since the beginning. It's time to go."
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Central Command said in a news release that it still intended to remove 3rd Infantry soldiers "by September, pending international or U.S. replacement units. As always, the security situation could affect deployments and redeployments."
A total of 32 U.S. soldiers have been killed in attacks since May 1, when President Bush declared the end of major hostilities in Iraq. In the latest assault, six American soldiers were wounded, one critically, in a mortar attack Tuesday on their base in Balad, a town 50 miles north of Baghdad.
Bremer repeated the charge that hard-core Baathists, former members of the Fedayeen Saddam militia and the intelligence services were behind the attacks.
Nevertheless, the increasing frequency and sophistication of the attacks -- and growing doubts about the basis for the war -- have contributed to the decision by some countries not to contribute troops.
On Tuesday, France ruled out sending troops, following India and Germany in rejecting U.S. calls for help without approval from the United Nations.
The Bush administration has scored some success in recruiting other countries to help patrol Iraq. Poland will contribute 2,300 soldiers to a brigade that will also include units from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Lithuania.
A second brigade will have 1,640 Ukrainians and the third 1,100 Spanish troops as well as units from Honduras, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador and Nicaragua.
However, the decision to keep the thousands of soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq at least through the summer shows the need for even more troops from countries with well-trained and well-equipped military forces.
Bremer, a former diplomat and counterterrorism expert, reported some progress in restoring normal life in Iraq, saying 90 percent of the country's schools and all its universities were now open. Electricity was expected to be back to its prewar levels by the end of the month, but those levels, he warned, were 30 to 35 percent below what was needed.
Bremer blamed the continuing electricity shortages on an antiquated system left over from Saddam's regime and sabotage by pro-Saddam insurgents.
"This is a problem we inherited from a regime that for 35 years underinvested in every aspect of this country," he said.
The council also said it would begin filling Cabinet positions next week in a gradual process, according to Fawzi Hariri of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the groups represented on the council.
"Consultations will begin next week. It may not be that a whole government is formed at once, but ministries will be named, one after the other," Hariri said.
He rejected criticism that the council, which held its inaugural session Sunday, lacked independence from Bremer.
"The council will have major authority. It will be the real ruler of Iraq," Hariri said. "Bremer's role as a civil administrator of Iraq will be consulting with the Governing Council in some of the matters, especially the security matters since they (the Americans) are the main military force in Iraq."
The Governing Council has the power to name ministers and approve the 2004 budget. It's comprised of prominent Iraqis from all walks of political and religious life and will have some political muscle even though the Americans have made clear Bremer has ultimate control.
Bremer said Tuesday he did not expect having to exercise veto power over council decisions, but asserted he was heavily involved in its proceedings. He has attended every session so far.