Two Iraqi City Councils Hold First Meeting

Gunfire and explosions in Iraq killed two more U.S. servicemen and wounded four. But despite the worsening guerrilla warfare, the U.S.-led administration called two new city councils to order Monday — one in the southern Shiite city of Najaf (search) and the other in the chaotic capital.

The councils — which join other municipal governments with limited powers emerging around Iraq — are expected to act as a proving ground for national leaders, as the United States tries to lay the ground for an eventual transition to democracy.

U.S. advisers also announced an initial economic agenda, including establishment of an independent Iraqi central bank, and plans to rid the country of bank notes bearing the image of Saddam Hussein — after printing millions of them last month.

In two days of attacks in Baghdad (search), three U.S. soldiers have been killed, raising the total to 30 American combat deaths since major hostilities ended May 1.

In the latest slayings, a roadside bomb killed one soldier traveling in an Army convoy Monday, and a second American was shot to death in a Sunday night gunbattle in the troubled Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Azamiyah, the military said. Both soldiers belonged to the Army's 1st Armored Division, the Germany-based unit occupying Baghdad.

Also Sunday, a U.S. soldier was shot and killed drinking a soda in the shade at Baghdad University.

Despite increasing attacks against Americans, no extra troops are needed in Iraq now, the war's retiring commander, Gen. Tommy Franks (search), told ABC's Good Morning America in an interview Monday marking his last day in uniform.

There are some 145,000 Americans and 12,000 coalition forces including British, Poles and others in Iraq. Up to 20,000 international soldiers will flow into Iraq to help, beginning later this month and concluding the deployments at the end of September, the Pentagon has said.

A British soldier was shot in the leg in a sniper attack in Basra, southern Iraq, the Ministry of Defense said Monday. The soldier, shot while on patrol Sunday night, was in stable condition at a British army field hospital, the government said.

Sabotage against public utilities also has been on the rise in the last few weeks, said Andrew Bearpark, a senior British occupation official who directs some reconstruction efforts.

In the Iraqi capital Monday, a polyglot city council met for the first time, bringing together a range of members — from tribal leaders in headdresses to women in smart business suits. The role of the 37-member advisory body — which has no spending authority — is to advise the U.S.-led administration.

"It's probably the most important day since April 9th, when the coalition came and liberated you from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein," said L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq. "Today marks the resumption of the democratic system in Baghdad, which hasn't been here in 30 years."

As security men prowled the chamber with machine guns, Bremer lectured the council on the responsibilities of looking after a multiethnic city the size of Houston. He lauded their bravery.

"You have courageously chosen to serve the public at a time when malicious people in Baghdad threaten the peace and security of this city," Bremer said.

The U.S. administration screened council members for ties to Saddam's Baath Party and nullified the election of "four or five" Baathists, said Army Lt. Col. Joe Rice, a council adviser.

Once the country's constitution is written and a census and voter registrations finished, nationwide elections will be held, "at which point the coalition's work will be done," Bremer said.

Baghdad city council members' experience in government will lend them an edge in those elections, said Rice, a former councilman from Glendale, Colo.

"I wouldn't underestimate their influence," he said.

The council members were not chosen through popular elections. Rather, individual neighborhood councils put up candidates for district councils, which in turn proposed candidates for city council. They were selected through a show of hands among neighborhood and district council members.

City councils have been emerging around Iraq, with councils in Mosul and Basra, among other cities. Fallujah and other cities have mayors.

On Monday, a 22-member city council took its seats in the southern city of Najaf. The council's only female member, Dr. Jenan Yasser al-Obeidi, dressed from head to toe in black, sat quietly and took notes during the session.

Najaf, like much of Shiite-dominated southern Iraq, has been largely free of the daily violence against U.S. troops that plagues Sunni areas north and west of Baghdad.

In the tense western town of Ramadi, four U.S. soldiers were wounded after attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at their convoy late Sunday, the military said. One Iraqi suspect was killed and another wounded in the attack.

Tension has increased in the town since a bomb blast Saturday killed seven Iraqi police recruits as they graduated from a U.S. training course. Dozens more were injured.

The U.S. military blamed the attack on pro-Saddam insurgents seeking to target those working with the Americans, but many in Ramadi said they thought the Americans themselves were behind the incident.

In a national television address, Bremer said Saddam-free dinar notes will enter circulation Oct. 15, and will be swapped one-for-one until the Saddam-faced notes are out of circulation by early 2004. The new bills will be based on a design used in Iraq before Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and they do not feature Saddam's face.

A severe shortage of Iraqi dinars — compounded by the rejection by many Iraqis of the 10,000 dinar note that was issued just before the war — led U.S. administrators in June to order the printing of millions of new 250 dinar notes, even though they bore Saddam's likeness. They continue to print millions of the old bills every day.