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Wednesday, April 7

U.S. will keep major presence in Iraq after June 30 power transfer

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - On June 30, the U.S. civil authorities in Baghdad are scheduled to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis, clearing a major hurdle in the U.S. exit strategy from Iraq.

Despite the recent destabilizing violence, President Bush is insisting on sticking with the June 30 date.

``My judgment is that the closer we come to the deadline, the more people will challenge our will,'' Bush said, but added, ``the date remains firm.''

Here are some questions and answers surrounding the sovereignty transfer:

Question: What exactly will happen on June 30?

Answer: The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the leading civil administration in Iraq, will transfer power to the government of Iraq. It's not clear yet what that government will be, and time is running short. The interim 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, which was established by the CPA, has been serving as Iraq's civil authority. One of the leading possibilities is to expand the council so it can continue to govern until the Iraqis can hold elections later this year or early in 2005.

Q: Are the Iraqis ready to take control of their own government?

A: That's debatable. Corruption is rife in Iraq's fledgling civil agencies, and security remains a major problem. The recent wave of attacks by Iraq's Sunni and Shiite insurgents has raised grave questions about the stability of the country and its ability to run a competent government.

Q: How many U.S. troops are in Iraq now and how many will remain after June 30?

A: Events on June 30 will not automatically trigger troop reduction. There are about 134,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, but that number could go up before it comes down because of ongoing violence and instability. Senior Pentagon officials have said they will send more troops if necessary. The number probably will not go below 100,000 this year.

Q: What sort of civil presence from the United States will remain in Iraq after June 30?

A: Large. The CPA essentially will morph into the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. With a staff of several thousand, it will be the largest U.S. Embassy in the world.

Q: What role is Paul Bremer, the top civil administrator in Iraq, likely play after June 30?

A: Widely respected for taking a nearly impossible job, Bremer has said he wants to return to the private sector. Bremer's position will be dissolved, along with the CPA, on June 30. The Bush administration has not yet named an ambassador to Iraq.

Q: What's the next step in the political process for the Iraqis after June 30?

A: After taking power, the Iraqis must hold their first direct elections and then write a constitution. All that could take 18 months or more.