Bush insists new government will not be US puppets

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The Independent US

George Bush declared yesterday that the newly formed Iraqi interim government would have "full sovereignty", insisting its members would not be mere "puppets" of Washington and the US troops who remained in the country after the 30 June handover.

George Bush declared yesterday that the newly formed Iraqi interim government would have "full sovereignty", insisting its members would not be mere "puppets" of Washington and the US troops who remained in the country after the 30 June handover.

Along with Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, President Bush also denied suggestions that Washington and the United Nations had been outmanoeuvred in the choice of Iraq's transitional prime minister and president.

The President appeared in the White House rose garden on the same day that tribal chief Ghazi Yawar was sworn in as Iraq's interim president, after Adnan Pachachi, the preferred candidate of the US, said he was no longer in the running. That surprise came 48 hours after the nomination of Iyad Allawi as interim prime minister.

In both cases, the Bush administration appeared to have been caught off guard by the outcome of intricate negotiations in Baghdad, in which the outgoing Iraqi Governing Council, rather than Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy, or US representatives on the spot, seems to have had the last word. But Mr Bush and Ms Rice put the best possible face on proceedings, pledging full support for the new government and this "first step towards democracy" in Iraq. The 26-strong new interim cabinet was "a terrific list, a really good government", Ms Rice said.

"These are not America's puppets," she said when asked about complaints from some of the new Iraqi leadership about the failure of US occupiers to deliver security to the civilian population. "These are independent-minded Iraqis determined to take their country to security and democracy." But during the half-hour press conference, Mr Bush did not dispel confusion about its precise powers.

Though he insisted that Mr Allawi's team would have "full" sovereignty, the President stressed again that US forces in Iraq which ultimately guarantee that sovereignty would be under American command. This may not satisfy France, Russia and Germany at the UN, who want the Security Council resolution now under discussion to give the new government wider powers, including ultimate authority over the US-led force that remains in the country.

Mr Bush also sidestepped a question about whether US troops would leave Iraq if asked to do so by Mr Allawi.

He distanced himself more clearly than ever before from Ahmed Chalabi, the exile leader supported by the Pentagon and more than $100m (£60m) of US funding until he was unceremoniously ditched last month. He played down claims that Mr Chalabi's circle had been the source of much wrong information before last year's invasion. Mr Bush claimed to have met him twice. Mr Chalabi says he met Mr Bush in person no less than four times.

* Tony Blair said the appointment of an interim government represented "a truly historic day for Iraq". He said: "I hope with this announcement today, people realise that there is that very clear division between, on the one hand, the new Iraqi government, the Iraqi people, the multi-national forces and the United Nations, who are trying to assist Iraq towards stability and democracy, and on the other, the sort of terrorists and fanatics who are trying to stop it."

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