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U.S. Presence in Iraq May Continue After June

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2003 – U.S. military forces may remain in Iraq when full sovereignty is given to the Iraqi people in June and the Coalition Provisional Authority dissolves, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, CPA administrator, said in interviews from Baghdad, Iraq, today on Sunday television talk shows.

"Every indication we have in our discussions with the governing council (and) with the ministers suggests a strong desire from the majority of the Iraqi people to have the coalition forces stay until the situation is stabilized," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "We're in a war against terrorism here, and a low- intensity conflict against former Baathists. We want to help the Iraqis win both of these wars."

With recent attacks on coalition forces, the ambassador said it's important to remember that 95 percent of these attacks are being conducted by a few thousand men in a small part of the country, posing no strategic threat to operations.

"They do obviously and unfortunately have the ability to impose casualties," he added. Though he acknowledged that some witness reports indicate ground fire was involved in the apparent collision of two Army helicopters in Mosul on Nov. 15, the ambassador said it's too early to be sure about a cause.

"It's hard to know at this point what happened," he added. "The investigation is ongoing. It's obviously a very great tragedy." Seventeen U.S. soldiers were killed and five others were injured when the helicopters went down.

The ambassador said every precaution to protect coalition forces will be taken. "Looking after the welfare of the men and women in the armed forces is 'Job One,'" he said on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."

Better intelligence, necessary to protecting coalition forces, is one advantage of having Iraqis involved in their own security, Bremer told Fox viewers. "When we get Iraqi policemen and soldiers out there, we get a knowledge of the local terrain, landscape, the customs, the rhythm of life," he said. "We're getting more information on the enemy (from the Iraqi people)."

Despite the attention commanded by attacks on coalition forces, the rebuilding of Iraq continues. With more than 15,000 projects completed in six months, the reconstruction is well under way, said Bremer. "There is a lot of good news," he added. "As reconstruction efforts move forward, and as we give Iraqis more responsibilities in political and military fields, I think we'll find our security in a better place."

The ambassador said he believes it would be a mistake to pull out of Iraq too soon. "We have to find the right balance," he said. "As the president has said, we will not cut and run. We're here to get the job done, and we will stay until the job is done.

"It would be a mistake to rush turnover until Iraq has some kind of constitutional framework that guarantees individual liberties, guarantees the bill of rights, guarantees freedom of worship," he added.

The answer is an interim constitution that guarantees rights that didn't exist for the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein, said Bremer on ABC. "We will write into that exactly the kinds of guarantees that were not in Saddam's constitution. We'll have a bill of rights. We'll recognize equality for all citizens. We'll recognize an independent judiciary. We'll talk about a federal government."

The interim constitution, said Bremer, also will provide time for a permanent constitution to be written, a process Bremer said probably would take two years.

"What we've found here is a way to go forward (that is) consistent with the president's objectives, but also allows the Iraqis to have their full independence in a reasonable time period -- seven or eight months," he said.

Bremer added he supports the negotiations with the new Iraqi government for continued U.S. presence in Iraq to help stabilize the country and keep it at peace with its neighbors.

"They have some pretty rough neighbors, and they're going to need our support for quite some time," he said on Fox.

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