WASHINGTON -- It isn't only the French and the Germans who want the United States to relinquish control in Iraq sooner rather than later. So does the leader of Iraq's American-picked interim government, posing yet another complication for U.S. efforts in chaotic postwar Iraq.
Ahmad Chalabi, the president of the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, listened from Iraq's seat in the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday as President Bush suggested that Iraqi self-government should not be rushed and more nations should share the peacekeeping burden.
A longtime ally of conservatives in the Pentagon, Chalabi is separately lobbying U.N. diplomats to do the opposite: quicker transfer of control. He's also arguing against more foreign troops.
Bypassing the administration that put them in power, Chalabi and other members of his unelected council were also expected to press Congress in the coming days for more autonomy -- in part arguing that it could save American taxpayers billions of dollars.
That puts Chalabi and his associates in direct conflict with the administration. Bush has resisted efforts for a quicker turnover and told the U.N. General Assembly: "This process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis -- neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties."
The White House tried to brush off the dispute with Chalabi.
Bush said after his speech "our goals in Iraq are the right goals and we'll accomplish the goals."
His aides noted that the Iraqi Governing Council was not an elected body, and that the president and L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, remained committed to an orderly process.
"We have a shared goal to transfer responsibility and authority to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible, but it must be done in an orderly fashion and we must have a process that works," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
Bremer told a Senate committee a day earlier that, rather than giving the governing council increased powers, the "only path to full Iraqi sovereignty is through a written constitution, ratified and followed by free, democratic elections."
Kurt Campbell, a former top Pentagon official who now works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the rift is the latest manifestation of an internal feud between the Pentagon and the State Department.
Powerful elements in the Pentagon would like to see Chalabi given more power and basically agree with his recent statements, while the State Department continues to favor a more deliberative process that brings in other nations, Campbell said.
"What we have to avoid is a debacle and the quickest way to do that is to get as many people involved as possible," Campbell said.
In an interview with The New York Times published Tuesday, Chalabi said he wanted to get more autonomy for his council and at least partial control "right away" of finance and security ministries.
"We think that internal security in Iraq cannot be maintained unless Iraqis are far more involved than they are now," Chalabi was quoted as saying.
He has made similar statements in the past.
The White House has sought to paper over its differences with independent-minded members of the Iraqi Governing Council like Chalabi, showcasing instead more compliant Iraqi officials.
On Monday, Bush met in the Oval Office with two appointed Iraqi officials -- the ministers of electricity and public works -- and offered them a chance to talk to reporters. Not surprisingly, they voiced enthusiastic support for the president's step-by-step process.
Ivo Daalder, a Brookings Institution analyst and co-author of a book on Bush's foreign policy, said the split is putting the administration in an embarrassing position.
The Iraqi authorities are "not legitimate because we installed them," Daalder said. "And so we now have a problem of going against the people we put in power, saying they can't be trusted."
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a longtime supporter of Chalabi, said the leader has been one to push against U.S. policy but not one to undermine it.
"That's been the way he's operated in the past," said Brownback, who plans to meet with Chalabi next week.
Brownback said it would be a serious mistake to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq too quickly.
Support for Chalabi in Iraq is mixed. He has many critics opposed to anyone ruling Iraq who has spent most of his life abroad. Chalabi, 58, left Iraq as a teenager.
A former banker, Chalabi founded the once-exiled Iraqi National Congress and was convicted of fraud in absentia in Jordan in 1992 in a banking scandal and sentenced to 22 years in jail. He has repeatedly denied the charges.
Chalabi is president for September. The council presidency rotates among nine members.