BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ American administrators will hand over sovereignty to a new transitional government by June, the Iraqi Governing Council said Saturday, announcing an accelerated U.S. plan for ending the occupation of Iraq.
The plan would mean the end of the U.S.-led coalition administration in Iraq, but not the end of the American troop presence. The new Iraqi government would negotiate an accord on the status of U.S. forces in the country.
The announcement came on a day when the 400th U.S. soldier died in Iraq since major combat started here March 20, and two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters crashed in the north. Witnesses in the city of Mosul said the two aircraft collided in mid-air, and one of them smashed into a house. The military confirmed the crash but had no immediate word on casualties or the cause.
From Washington, the White House welcomed the new plan in a statement, calling it ``an important step toward realizing the vision of Iraq as a democratic, pluralistic country at peace with its neighbors.″
The new timetable followed talks between the 24-member council and the chief administrator, L. Paul Bremer, who returned Thursday from Washington after talks with President Bush and senior national security advisers.
Faced with escalating violence in Iraq, the Bush administration wants to speed up the handover of power to Iraqis _ dropping its earlier insistence that the Iraqis first draw up a new constitution and hold general elections, a process likely to last at least another year. The Iraqis had been insisting on a faster transfer.
Council member Ahmad Chalabi, appearing at a news conference with other members, said the selection of a transitional government should be completed by May. The government, he said, will be ``internationally recognized″ and with ``full sovereignty.″
Council President Jalal Talabani said the transitional administration would be selected after consultations with ``all parties″ in Iraqi society.
Council members also said the plans called for a permanent constitution to be drafted and an elected administration chosen by the end of 2005.
Talabani said the new government would negotiate an accord with the U.S. military on the role of American troops in the country after the handover.
``As of now, we will begin a dialogue with occupation authorities on the security matters, but when the transitional government is set up all authorities will be transferred to this government,″ he said.
The new government will be ``in charge of security in Iraq, internal security as well as the budget of Iraq and in control of all parts of Iraq. Then no other powers will have authority concerning internal security.″
Sunni Muslim council member Adnan Pachachi said the U.S.-appointed Governing Council will notify the U.N. Security Council of the timetable for creating the new institutions. The United Nations had set a deadline of Dec. 15.
Asked whether the Americans wanted to hand sovereignty because of rising death tolls, Pachachi said: ``I think you should address this question to the special representative of the U.S. government.″ Pachachi added that America was ``responding to our desire″ for political power.
The insurgency against American forces, initially centered in the so-called Sunni Triangle of central Iraq, now appears to be spreading to the north and south.
On Saturday, a roadside bomb exploded next to a patrol in Baghdad’s northern Ad Hamiah neighborhood killing a U.S. soldier _ the 400th death _ and injuring two others, a statement said. The British military has reported 52 deaths so far in Iraq, along with one soldier each from Denmark, Spain, Ukraine and Poland.
In Baghdad, several blasts were heard in the city’s western suburbs. A spokesman for the 1st Armored Division, which is responsible for security in the capital, said its units had fired mortars at insurgents.
Also Saturday, an explosion derailed a train traveling between the towns of Samara and Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad, a military spokesman said. The cause was not immediately clear.
The death toll of a suicide bombing Wednesday at a headquarters for Italian forces in Iraq reached 17 Saturday, when a severely wounded soldier was pronounced dead in Kuwait.
In the northern city of Mosul, Khalid Victor, a translator working for the municipal administration and his son were killed Saturday when gunmen opened fire at their car, officials said.
``It’s obvious that they are targeting all Iraqis working with Americans,″ said a city official who declined to give his name.
Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill said the U.S.-led coalition may have underestimated the determination of fighters loyal to deposed leader Saddam Hussein, media reports said Saturday.
``With the benefit of hindsight, and of course in a country awash with arms, it now seems much more logical ... that they would attempt to fight back,″ the Australian Associated Press quoted him as saying.
Hill said the coalition had also ``underestimated the complexity of Iraqi society″ including the role of tribes, ethnic and religious differences ``and how complex it would be to put together out of that a government that might be referred to as democratic.″