Iraqis Take the Reins

Sunday's first meeting of the Iraqi Governing Council is a welcome step. As sporadic attacks by remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime continue, it's extremely important that the Iraqi people see progress toward involving Iraqis in their country's government.

The council is appointed rather than elected - it's too early for elections - but it is broadly representative of Iraq's diverse religious and ethnic groups. The membership includes 13 Shiite Muslims, five Sunni Muslims, five ethnic Kurds, an Assyrian Christian, and a Turkmen. Three of the members are women. A slight majority are people who lived outside Iraq or outside Hussein's control.

The council's first task will be to convince Iraqis that it represents and serves them - and is not just a front for coalition officials pulling strings behind the scenes. Especially important will be the reaction of the Sunni Arabs, who have always governed Iraq despite their minority status.

Chief American administrator L. Paul Bremer, working with UN representative Sérgio Vieira de Mello, has granted the council broad powers: It will hire and fire ministers, approve a budget, appoint diplomats, and gear up for a constitutional convention to begin in September. The plan is to have a new constitution within a year after that, followed by free elections.

The council's appointment follows several US changes in direction as events in Iraq have unfolded. One is the UN's increased role; another is restoring the pay of former Iraqi Army officers. The governing council now must show that Iraqis can govern themselves peacefully after decades of dictatorship.

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