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U.S. considers political role for U.N.

By Wire services
Published September 27, 2003

UNITED NATIONS - The United States has agreed to give the United Nations a bigger political role in overseeing Iraq's transition to democracy, an American official told the Associated Press on Friday, while Britain and Spain welcomed a tentative U.S. timeline for handing over power to an elected Iraqi government.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated Friday that the United States would like Iraqi leaders to produce a new constitution in six months, paving the way for elections perhaps six months later and a return to self-rule.

But the United States is not setting a deadline, Powell emphasized. Rather, he said, he was sketching out an "appropriate" time frame to motivate the drafting process.

The United States is pushing for a new U.N. resolution to try to get more countries to contribute troops and money to Iraq, but faces opposition from France, Germany and several other Security Council nations that want Washington to relinquish power quickly and give the United Nations more say in the process.

An American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has agreed to give the world body a bigger role in the election and the political transition from one-party rule under Saddam Hussein to a democracy.

The official said the United Nations suggested it should be involved in coalition building in the Arab world.

In his Tuesday speech before the General Assembly, President Bush spoke broadly about a need for global help and outlined a limited role for the United Nations in writing an Iraqi constitution, training civil servants and overseeing elections.

Powell met with ministers from the 14 other Security Council nations, and dozens of others concerned about the instability in Iraq - including two bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in a month. He then returned to Washington late Friday to work on a revised resolution.

The U.S. official said the timeline suggested by Powell was a response to the French.

U.S. says 19 al-Qaida members held

WASHINGTON - The top American civilian official for Iraq said on Friday that the United States was holding at least 19 members of al-Qaida in custody there.

The disclosure by the official, L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, was the first public mention by an American official of the detention of al-Qaida members. Bremer said he did not know the nationalities of those detained, but he suggested they were among the 248 foreign fighters held in Iraq, including 123 from Syria.

Bremer volunteered the number to underscore the administration's argument that the American-led occupation is an integral part of the campaign on terrorism. "The biggest obstacle" to American efforts in Iraq, he said, "has been the need to defeat the terrorists."

Administration officials have spoken for months of what they have described as an influx of foreign fighters into Iraq, particularly across the Syrian border. Some have said there is evidence that the fighters include members of al-Qaida, the terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden.

But Friday was the first time the administration asserted that it had arrested any al-Qaida fighters. Bremer said the 19 detainees' links to al-Qaida had been determined by "interrogations or in documentation."

Bremer made his comments at a briefing for Pentagon reporters.

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