BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. occupation will push authority onto the new Iraqi Cabinet and wants to more quickly give Iraqis control over security, the top American civilian official in Iraq said Tuesday, saying the way to Iraqi sovereignty is "visible."
L. Paul Bremer's (search) comments came as members of the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council (search) increased criticism of U.S. forces over the lack of security. One member, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim (search), launched a blistering attack on the U.S.-led coalition Tuesday as he delivered the eulogy for his brother, a top cleric killed in a car bombing Friday in Najaf.
Bremer, who cut short a vacation in the United States and returned to Iraq after the Najaf blast, praised the council's appointing of 25 goverment ministers on Monday after weeks of delay.
"The day-to-day business of government is their hands," he told a Baghdad news conference. "It is our intention to keep authority and responsibility closely linked, and therefore, as they are settled into their positions, the advisers from the coalition will not only yield authority, we will thrust authority."
"The path ahead to full Iraqi sovereignty is clear and visible," he said.
Bremer comments came shortly after al-Hakim demanded U.S. troops leave Iraq during his eulogy before 40,000 Shiite mourners at the funeral of his brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim (search). The council member blamed the Americans for lax security that allowed the car bombing, which killed up to 120 people.
On Saturday, another council member, Mohammed Bahr Al-Uloum, suspended his membership in the interim body because of the lack of security in the country and what he said was the Americans' inability to protect prominent figures.
Bremer said he understood al-Uloum's concerns and hoped he would return to the council in due course.
He insisted there was no rift between the coalition and the governing council.
"I completely agree with the argument that we should find ways quickly to give Iraq and Iraqis more responsibility for security," he told reporters. "They (the Governing Council) have encouraged us to do what we were already doing, which is putting Iraqis ... in Iraqi security."
The coalition hopes to have 65,000 to 70,000 police trained by the end of 2004, Bremer said. There are currently 37,000 police in Iraq, and 49 of the country's 151 prisons have been reopened by the coalition, he said.
Coalition forces also are using tribes in some areas of the country to help secure oil pipelines and power lines, he said.
Last week, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage said Washington was considering the creation of a multinational force under U.N. leadership — but with an American commander — in an attempt to persuade reluctant nations to send troops to boost security in Iraq.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday that Armitage was "talking about one of a number of ideas that are being discussed."
"We would welcome more international troops in Iraq," McClellan said. "Certainly a Security Council resolution is one of the options under discussion."
Earlier Tuesday, a car bomb exploded in central Baghdad outside police headquarters, killing one policeman and wounding as many 13 other officers and an unknown number of bystanders, an Iraqi police official said.
Bremer said he understood and shared the "anguish" of Iraqis concerned about the attacks but said the coalition needed better intelligence to track the attackers.
"Most important is to find ways to encourage the Iraqis to come to us with information about the people who are perpetrating these attacks. This is happening," he said. "That will then affect the second area, which is as we begin to increase the number of Iraqis involved in their own security ... we will find increasing amounts of information coming in to us."
He said Friday's attack in Najaf showed that the terrorists will stop at nothing to pursue their aims, but said the tragic event would not "derail Iraq's forward movement."