UNITED NATIONS – The fledgling Iraqi Governing Council (search) made its debut before the international community Tuesday, welcomed by Kofi Annan (search) as "an important first step" toward Iraqi sovereignty but rebuffed in a bid to take over Iraq's U.N. seat.
The U.S.-backed Governing Council is broadly representative of the key constituencies in Iraq -- Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds (search). It was appointed nine days ago by the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq. The panel will eventually give way to a true Iraqi government.
John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador, hailed the three-member Iraqi delegation, telling them: "Your presence here is a powerful symbol" of Iraq's new freedom.
Negroponte also recognized that the 25-member Governing Council will only play a transitory role in preparing Iraq "for the restoration of full sovereignty."
The Iraqi council will be able to pick ministers for a new administration and hold other powers, but U.S. administrators will have ultimate say.
Annan made it clear the delegation members shouldn't get too comfortable with their role.
"Our collective goal remains an early end to the military occupation through the formation of an internationally recognized, representative government," Annan told the Security Council.
"Meanwhile, it is vital that the Iraqi people should be able to see a clear timetable with a specific sequence of events leading to the full restoration of sovereignty as soon as possible."
The Governing Council's attempt to take over the Iraqi U.N. seat was derailed by "the reservations of some of our neighbors," Ahmad Chalabi, one of the key delegation members said.
He did not specify which countries were involved. A source close to the delegation pointed to Syria, a member of the Security Council, as the problem.
Neighboring Iran also has long-standing grievances against Iraq and would also be likely to object to any U.S.-approved Iraqi administration.
Ever since Saddam's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Al-Douri, left New York on April 11, Iraqi diplomats have kept a low profile at the United Nations. Al-Douri did not resign and Iraq's U.N. Mission remains open, with the former third-ranking diplomat, Said Shihab Ahmad, in charge.
Chalabi said the Iraqi U.N. Mission no longer has Baath party members or Iraqi secret police staffers, and the current staff would remain on duty.
"Part of the purpose of the Governing Council is to represent Iraq internationally and in international organizations," Chalabi said Tuesday.
Annan's special representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, presented his recommendations Tuesday -- underlining the breakdown in security and attacks on the U.S.-led occupation force and Iraqis cooperating with it.
When Vieira de Mello had finished his report, two women in the visitors' gallery rose to shout denunciations of the Iraqi Governing Council as "illegitimate." They were hustled out by uniformed U.N. security guards.
Chalabi was once favored by the Pentagon to be Iraq's next president.
But he had took a back seat at the Security Council to Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni and a former Iraqi foreign minister in the government deposed by Saddam's Baath party in 1968.
Chalabi sat next to the third delegate of the group, Akila al-Hashimi, one of three women on the Iraqi Governing Council. A Shiite and diplomat, she led the Iraqi delegation to the New York donor's conference for Iraq.
Pachachi gave the Security Council an introduction to the massive task of reorganization facing Iraq. He said the Iraqi Governing Council has decided to employ at least 30,000 police, open at least 1,500 schools and clinics, pay back salaries to government employees and retrain more than 200,000 demobilized soldiers.
"Our primary goal is to shorten the duration of the interim administration" so that an elected government serving under a constitution endorsed by the people can take power in Iraq, he said.