United Nations Special Adviser Lakhdar Brahimi told the Security Council today he intends to quickly resume talks with Iraqis to reach agreement by the end of May on the composition of a caretaker government to succeed the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), formally bringing an end to the occupation on 30 June.
This interim government will lead the country until "the most important milestone" - elections scheduled for January 2005, Mr. Brahimi said in an open briefing to the Council of his mission earlier this month to Iraq, where he spent 11 days consulting with a broad spectrum of Iraqi society on ideas for the post-transition period.
"Though it will certainly not be easy, we do believe that it shall be possible to identify, by the end of May, a group of people respected and acceptable to Iraqis across the country, to form this caretaker government," he said.
Mr. Brahimi expressed concern about the "extremely worrying" security situation throughout the country, such as the current standoff in Fallujah, "the Mahdi Army's uprising in the South, and a general increase in violence up and down the country."
"The CPA is well aware that, unless this stand-off - and now this fighting - [in Fallujah] is brought to a resolution through peaceful means, there is great risk of a very bloody confrontation. They know as well as, indeed, better than everyone else, that the consequences of such bloodshed could be dramatic and long-lasting," he said.
A key question is whether a credible political process is even viable under such circumstances, Mr. Brahimi said. "I put it to you and the Council, Mr. President, that there is in fact no alternative but to find a way of making the process viable and credible," he said.
As for the details of the plan for a caretaker government, Mr. Brahimi said ideally the Iraqi people should select this government. He also stressed that this government, by definition, must be short-lived, and should try to refrain from entering into long-term commitments "that can and should await decision by an elected government."
In addition, Iraqis were near unanimous that a Prime Minister should lead this government, and that a President should serve as Head of State, with two Vice-Presidents, Mr. Brahimi said. The members of the caretaker government must be careful not to use their positions to try and give advantage to any political party or group, and to prevent even the perception that they might do so, it would be best if they - including the interim President, Vice Presidents and Prime Minister - "were to choose not to stand for elections," he added.
Mr. Brahimi noted that many Iraqis also suggested the UN convene a National Conference, consisting of at least 1,000 people, to engage in a genuine national dialogue on the country's challenges. This National Conference "may ultimately constitute an important step towards many things, not least national reconciliation," he said.
In the meantime, Mr. Brahimi said, he intended to resume consultations in Iraq as soon as possible. "We earnestly hope that the next phase of consultations will help consolidate consensus around the ideas that I have just outlined," he said. "Once broad support for the framework is evident, we will then proceed to helping facilitate an Iraqi consensus on the actual composition of the caretaker government, as well as of the preparatory committee for the National Conference.
"As I have indicated, I hope that all of this can be completed before the end of May 2004," he added.
"The job is doable, as long as we set principled but realistic targets, moving towards them with deliberate steps, and if we are not alone as we take them. We will need, in particular, the Security Council to be united behind us and with us," he said.
Video of Council meeting [34mins]