by RAY FLEMING
The first substantial step towards putting in the foundations of a new Iraqi government was due to be taken this weekend. But a press conference called yesterday by the chief American administrator, Paul “Jerry” Bremer, was cancelled at short notice without explanation. It would not be surprising if there were still difficulties over the membership and powers of what is being called a “governing council”. From the little that is known, the Americans and British see it primarily as an advisory body whereas the participating Iraqis want to have specific, almost ministerial, responsibilities. Both sides have a vested interest in establishing some form of interim administration that will end the vacuum created by the fact that the two occupying powers are not seern by the mass of the Iraqi people to have any legitimate authority. Preliminary negotiations have identified some 25 Iraqis from all parts of the country representing the mainstream religious and political groupings, including that of the formerly-exiled Ahmed Chalabi's Iraq National Congress; it is expected that at least one woman will be among these representatives and that the council will have a small Shia Muslim majority. High on the agenda when the council meets with be the arrangements for drafting a new constitution for Iraq, the role of Islam in future governance and the special status of the Kurds. However, the most difficult matter on which to reach agreement may well be the precise powers of the council. Mr Bremer has said that he will remain the country's chief adminstrator and would accept the council's recommendations “when possible” while retaining the power to override its wishes “in exceptional circumstances”.