Baghdad, Nov. 9 (Reuters): Iraq’s foreign minister promised today to keep to a US timetable towards sovereign government as another American soldier’s death added to the pressure for a handover of power.
The soldier died and a comrade was wounded when their vehicle hit an explosive device in central Baghdad late yesterday, the US military said. Another bomb wounded a British soldier in the less volatile southern city of Basra.
Facing US pressure to speed up drafting a constitution to lay the ground for a sovereign government, the US-appointed Iraqi governing council plans intensive discussions to draw up a political roadmap, interim foreign minister Hoshiyar Zebari said.
Washington has set a December 15 deadline for the council to agree a mechanism for creating a constitution, which would pave the way for democratic elections.
“The ball is now in our court and we must deliver,” Zebari said. Facing daily guerrilla attacks, the US is keen to put an Iraqi government in place and hand more responsibility to Iraqi police and soldiers.
With yesterday’s fatality, attacks by insurgents have now killed 150 US soldiers in Iraq since President George W. Bush declared major combat over on May 1. Washington blames attacks on US forces on die-hard supporters of ousted President Saddam Hussein and foreign militants, some allied to the al Qaida guerrilla network.
Al Qaida was also suspected of a devastating suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia yesterday which diplomats said killed at least 20 people, in a Riyadh compound housing mainly Arab foreigners.
In Iraq, attacks have been centred on US forces in Baghdad and the surrounding “Sunni triangle” region, but in mainly Shia southern Iraq, a bomb near a hospital was detonated as a British convoy drove past today, and one soldier was wounded in the hand, a military spokesperson said.
Zebari, speaking after meeting visiting Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio, said he had assured her the December 15 deadline would be met, although implementation of the political roadmap depended on security conditions. He conceded the Council was slow to take decisions but said it was a force for unity and stability in Iraq.
Zebari was responding to a Washington Post report that US officials were considering alternatives to the council to ensure the US-led administration could hand over power as troops are withdrawn.
US officials believe members of the US-appointed body are too focused on their own interests, the Post said, citing senior US officials.
Last evening, guerrillas attempted a mortar attack on the headquarters of the US-led administration in Baghdad for the third time in a week. One round landed near a nearby railway station but there were no casualties, Iraqi police said.
US soldiers around Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, 175 km north of Baghdad, have launched a new operation in the hostile Sunni area to hunt down guerrillas and senior Saddam loyalists.
The US army said “Operation Ivy Cyclone” would last several days and involve aggressive raids to root out resistance to the US-led occupation forces.
On Friday night, US planes dropped 500-pound bombs on suspected guerrilla hideouts around Tikrit. It was the first time planes had dropped explosives since the official end of major combat. The bombing followed the shooting down of a US Black Hawk helicopter in Tikrit, which killed all six people on board.