The decision to press ahead with the political phase of reconstruction follows calls for the coalition to leave Iraq as soon as possible. This erupted into clashes between the US military and demonstrators in Falluja, a city on the Euphrates west of Baghdad, at the end of April. On 28 April, 13 Iraqis were killed and an unknown number wounded when US soldiers opened fire on a demonstration. Demonstrators said the attack was unprovoked but the US military said it had come under fire. On 30 April, a further three people were killed in a similar incident.

Concern that security is beginning to break down is reported to be behind the US’ decision to encourage the second national meeting of Iraqi political groups, held in Baghdad on 28 April, to push for the early appointment of an Iraqi government. It called for a representative national meeting to be held within four weeks that would confirm the composition of a new administration. It also agreed that this should be called a transitional Iraqi government rather than the Iraqi Interim Administration (IIA), the term applied by the coalition. The first meeting was held in Ur on 15 April ) MEED 18:4:03).

The Baghdad meeting was attended by about 200 people selected by the coalition and representing most of the political and confessional groups in Iraq. The next meeting is to be organised with five-six representatives being selected from each of Iraq’s 18 governorates. No date or venue for the event has yet been fixed.

The coalition says it has been preparing for further political developments by appointing commissions or councils in Basra and other Iraqi cities. The self-proclaimed mayor of Baghdad Mohammad al-Zubaidi, however, was arrested by the coalition on 27 April.

The coalition is also preparing the ground for international agreement about Iraqi reconstruction. Middle East & North Africa director of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Edward Chaplin told MEED on 28 April that one or more resolutions are being prepared to lift UN sanctions against Iraq, including new arrangements for the oil-for-food programme, which expires on 3 June, new guidelines for inspectors seeking weapons of mass destruction and a UN co-ordinator to work with the coalition in Iraq. He said that the coalition would continue to direct the political reconstruction and that he believed that prosecution of Iraqis accused of crimes against the Iraqi people should be dealt within the Iraqi legal system. Chaplin said he did not expect the new resolutions to emerge for several weeks.

Newsweek reported on 30 April that US President George Bush plans to announce in early May the appointment ofPaul Bremer, a career diplomat, as civilian administrator in Iraq. Bremer is to have authority over Jay Garner, director of the Office of Reconstruction & Humanitarian Affairs, a body set up by the US Defense Department.