The top U.S. civilian official in Iraq vowed Thursday that the United States would stick to its schedule for handing over power to Iraqis but that it would be open to considering a different formula for establishing a new Iraqi government.
"Changes are possible but the date holds," U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer (search) told reporters, adding that there were "dozens" of methods for selecting a new government. Among the options, he said, were a redesigned "caucus" system or partial elections.
The date for the handover is set for June 30 but some with the country's influential Shiite Muslim (search) clergy had demanded earlier elections.
"There are literally dozens of ways to carry out this complicated task," he said. "I invite your attention to how complicated it is."
After Bremer spoke, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) told reporters at the United Nations that elections can't be held in Iraq before the scheduled transfer of power. Annan didn't make a recommendation on how to form a transitional government in Iraq.
And in Washington, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday that the Bush administration was prepared to drop the caucus plan and hand over power to an expanded Governing Council until elections can be held.
Bremer has said he would not allow the U.S.-appointed Governing Council (search) to adopt a basic law or constitution that was based upon Islamic law.
While calling for any charter to acknowledge the Islamic nature of Iraq, Bremer said the law must be based on secular democratic principles.
"We have an obligation as the sovereign power that an appropriate democratic structure is put in place here while we are here so that we can deliver to the Iraqis what they want, which is a democratic, unified, stable country at peace with itself," Bremer said.
Bremer came under fire for saying earlier that a constitution or transition law based on Islam was unacceptable because it could damage freedoms that currently are guaranteed for women. He did not back away from those comments in Thursday's news conference.
"It is important to go back to the principles of the Nov. 15th agreement in which the Governing Council committed itself to the transitional law which will respect fundamental rights, including the fundamental right to freedom of religion while recognizing the Islamic nature of Islamic society.
"I don't want to predict how precisely those principles will be recognized in the transitional law, because the Governing Council is just now considering the draft of that.
"But I'm assuming the Governing Council will stick with what it said and recognize those freedoms and the equality of all Iraqis irrespective ... of religion, ethnicity or gender," Bremer said.
Bremer also said he expected President Bush to win re-election in November and that there would be no change in American policy in Iraq.
"The American people understand the importance of what we've done here," he said.
Bremer also thanked departing troops for their work in Iraq and said that seven people arrested Wednesday in Baqouba (search) — described by the U.S. military as possibly linked to Al Qaeda — appeared to be "Iraqi extremists" rather than foreign fighters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.