Iraq's U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer (search), said Thursday that general elections could be held in Iraq within a year to replace a U.S.-appointed Governing Council (searchwhose legitimacy has been questioned by the international community.

Bremer, a former diplomat and counter-terrorism expert, said the elections would be held once a new constitution has been written and accepted by the Iraqi people in a referendum.

"It is certainly not unrealistic to think that we could have elections by mid-year 2004," Bremer said while touring the partially refurbished Iraqi Foreign Ministry (searchwith members of the interim government he appointed on July 13.

"And when a sovereign government is installed, the coalition authority will cede authority to the government and my job here will be over," Bremer said.

The 61-year-old Bremer, who took over running the country from Gen. Jay Garner (search), said the establishment of a new government would mark the end of his diplomatic career.

"Although that will mark my final retirement as a diplomat, it will mean that you, the diplomats of Iraq, will be going forward representing a fully sovereign government," Bremer told Foreign Ministry staff.

The fact that Iraq doesn't have an elected government makes reconstruction of the war-shattered country much more difficult. On Wednesday, World Bank President James Wolfensohn said it was unclear whether the interim government had the legitimacy to receive international loans.

"Clearly a constitution and an elected government would constitute a recognized government, but what do we do in the meantime?" Wolfensohn said during a one-day trip to Baghdad. "It's a subject that needs interpretation."

In a landmark for the 25-member Governing Council that Bremer brought into existence, the organization announced this week that it would function with a nine-member rotating presidency, beginning with the first name in the Arabic alphabet, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a representative of the Islamic Dawa Party which was banned under Saddam Hussein.

Al-Jaafari will be followed in September by Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, who has strong support in the Pentagon, and in October by Iyad Allawi, a Shiite Muslim doctor who heads the Iraq National Accord, which has deep roots in the opposition to Saddam both at home and abroad.

In its first sitting July 13, the council said its first order of business would be to select a president, but differences among its members prevented it from agreeing on a single leader.

The nine-member rotating presidency emerged after members failed to agree on a three-member joint presidency, council sources told The Associated Press.