Bush to reveal Iraq handover plan

Last updated at 09:56 24 May 2004

MPs are waiting to hear today how US president George Bush plans to tackle the delicate job of the handover of power in Iraq.

The president is making a speech tonight detailing how he intends to set Iraq firmly on the path to democracy after June 30 and avoid plunging it into chaos.

This afternoon, the US is introducing a draft United Nations resolution on the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty to include the handover of power; the roles of the multinational force and the UN; and Iraq's oil revenue. It is expected to be discussed in private by the UN Security


Bush's speech follows the pledge by Prime Minister Tony Blair last week that there there would be "no cutting and running" of coalition forces from the country.

But it also comes in the wake of signs of a rift between the outwardly-united Britain and the US on dealing with the situation in Iraq, which has been blighted by attacks apparently aimed at wrecking the smooth transfer.

The British military was said to be increasingly upset at the willingness of US troops to "kill, kill and kill again", according to a former British officer.

And Conservative MP Crispin Blunt last week described US preparations for the handover in Iraq as "a complete shambles".

Mr Blunt, a former Army officer, claimed that Americans had failed to prepare for the aftermath of last year's war and described their approach to occupation as little more than a "campaign to intimidate the Iraqi people".

In addition, the abuse of inmates at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad has overshadowed the administration's message of a free and democratic Iraq and provoked outrage in the Arab world.

Even as the president was preparing for peace, US forces killed at least 32 fighters loyal to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in a raid on a mosque in the holy city of Kufa yesterday. The building was being used as a weapons store, according to the coalition.

Some US experts say Mr Bush needs to act boldly,

perhaps by increasing the number of troops in Iraq and moving up the date for elections scheduled for next year.

However, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Duncan Hunter told NBC: "It's time to put some weight on the shoulders of the Iraqi military."

Mr Blair last week warned Cabinet colleagues against expressing open disagreement with the US over Iraq in case it damaged British troops' morale.

He spoke out after Tory leader Michael Howard urged the PM to be more open about any disagreements with America.

Mr Blair's official spokesman added that Britain and America shared common goals in Iraq and the question was of the best way to achieve them, whether by "megaphone diplomacy" or working out a common strategy.

"We believe it's better to work out a common strategy, not least because of the impact any disagreement or apparent disagreement would have on the troops who are working side by side on the ground."

In the speech at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, Mr Bush will describe "what steps we are taking and how we intend to get there to 2005 and the elections" in Iraq, spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis said.

It is the first in a series of speeches in which Bush will detail the transfer of political control in Iraq.

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