US and British occupation of Iraq will end by July, says Blair's envoy

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The US and British occupation of Iraq will end by 1 July next year at the latest, when the jointly-run civil administration, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), will be formally dissolved. Its authority and functions will be transferred to a joint US-British and Iraqi "Committee of Implementation", which will answer to the Iraqi transitional government.

That was outlined by the Prime Minister's special representative in Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, in a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London yesterday. Sir Jeremy also warned that he foresaw little let-up in the attacks on US and British forces, some of which could be "spectacular". "I have not got a message of comfort in those terms for the British public," he said.

The formal dissolution of the CPA by 1 July means that the military occupation of Iraq should be over in time for the Republican Party convention at the end of August, at which George Bush will be nominated for re-election, with the election itself in early November.

The word "occupation" has been a liability for US and British forces in Iraq, who had hoped to be hailed as "liberators". While the dissolution of the CPA will technically end the foreign occupation of Iraq, Sir Jeremy stressed that dissolution did not mean the end of the US and British security commitment, and that would probably change little through the second half of 2004.

The formal difference would be that, from 1 July - or sooner - executive and legislative authority would reside with the Iraqi transitional government and the troops would be in place "at the invitation" of the Iraqi government.

With the timetable for the formal hand-over accelerating, Sir Jeremy stressed the desirability of broader international involvement in Iraq, especially of the UN, which, he said, had a "huge role" to play. He meets the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, in New York on Monday to discuss a much-increased role for the UN after June 2004.

Sir Jeremy added that he would personally like to see the military forces in Iraq placed under Nato auspices after next June, because that would be a sign to the Iraqis that this was a "multilateral performance". But, he said, "the Americans will always be top dog in Iraq of the international forces, and must be."

However, it was possible to discern doubts about whether and how the Iraqi Governing Council would keep to the proposed timetable. In particular, he expressed regret that the IGC had not taken "more international advice" before passing a statute last week that set up an Iraqi war crimes tribunal.

He suggested that it would have been preferable for such a tribunal to have been set up under UN auspices. "The Iraqis wanted to do this their own way, without an international remit".