Iraq elections by mid-2004 - US governor

The US administrator running Iraq said today general elections to set up a democratic government could happen as early as mid…

The US administrator running Iraq said today general elections to set up a democratic government could happen as early as mid-2004, ending the US occupation.

Speaking at a ceremony to reopen Iraq's Foreign Ministry - which was looted and gutted by fire after the US-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein, Mr Paul Bremer told officials that they should expect an Iraqi government to be in place next year.

"It is not unrealistic to think we could possibly have general elections by mid-2004 and that is when our work here will be done," he said.

Mr Bremer says the US-led force occupying Iraq will leave as soon as a new democratic Iraqi government is established.

The US presence is widely resented and the occupying forces have been coming under almost daily attack. A US soldier was killed last night, bringing to 51 the number of US troops killed in attacks since major combat was declared over on May 1st.

Earlier this month, Mr Bremer's administration appointed a Governing Council of 25 Iraqis which Washington sees as the first step on the road towards self-rule. The members are drawn from Iraq's various religious, ethnic and political factions.

The Council took more than two weeks to complete one of its first tasks - picking a leader - and eventually settled on a compromise in which the presidency rotates among nine council members who will each hold it for a month at a time.

Council members have denied that the delay in choosing a leader, and the decision to adopt a rotating presidency, are signs of divisions and indecisiveness.

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