Five months ago today the brave men and women of our armed forces were completing the liberation of Iraq's 25 million citizens. It was a tremendous military triumph. Gone are Saddam Hussein's torture chambers. Gone are his mass killings and rape rooms. And gone is his threat to America and the international community. The liberation was a great and noble deed.
It is fair to ask: What is next?
No thoughtful person would suggest that the coalition should govern Iraq for long. Although Iraqis have freedoms they have never had before, freedom is not sovereignty and occupation is unpopular with occupier and occupied alike. We believe Iraqis should be given responsibility for their own security, economic development and political system as soon as possible.
So, then, how can we get Iraqis back in charge of Iraq?
Elections are the obvious solution to restoring sovereignty to the Iraqi people. But at the present elections are simply not possible. There are no election rolls, no election law, no political parties law and no electoral districts.
The current constitution is a Hussein-dictated formula for tyranny. When Hussein loaded two trucks with money and fled the advancing coalition forces, he left behind a vacuum. Electing a government without a permanent constitution defining and limiting government powers invites confusion and eventual abuse.
So, to hold elections Iraq needs a new constitution and it must be written by Iraqis. It must reflect their culture and beliefs. Writing a constitution, as all Americans know, is a solemn and important undertaking. It cannot be done in days or weeks.
Nonetheless, the path to full Iraqi sovereignty is clear. The journey has begun and three of the seven steps on this path have already been taken.
The first step came two months ago with the creation of a 25-member Governing Council broadly representative of Iraqi society. These brave men and women have come forward willingly to help build the new Iraq.
The second step took place last month when the Governing Council named a preparatory committee to devise a way to write a constitution.
The third and most important was putting day-to-day operation of Iraqi government in the hands of Iraqis. Last week the Governing Council named 25 ministers. Now every Iraqi ministry is run by an Iraqi appointed by Iraqis. These ministers, who serve at the pleasure of the Governing Council, conduct the business of government. They set policy.
Even today, they are preparing the 2004 budget and must operate their ministries according to those budgets. The coalition wants them to exercise real power and will thrust authority at them.
Writing Iraq's new constitution is the fourth step. It begins after the preparatory committee recommends a process for writing a constitution to the Governing Council later this month.
Step five, popular ratification of the constitution, is indispensable.
Once written, the constitution will be widely circulated, discussed and debated among the Iraqi people. All adult Iraqis will have the opportunity to vote for or against it. For the first time in history, Iraq will have a permanent constitution written by and approved by the Iraqi people.
The sixth step, election of a government, follows naturally. Shortly after the constitution is ratified by popular vote there will be an election to fill the elective offices specified in the constitution.
The officials in charge of that government will be chosen through universal adult suffrage in an open election.
When that government is elected, Iraq will have a government designed and selected by Iraqis. It will be unique in Iraq's history and will send a powerful message about democracy to other countries in the region.
The seventh step, dissolving the coalition authority, will follow naturally on the heels of elections. Once Iraq has a freely elected government, the coalition authority will happily yield the remainder of its authority to that sovereign Iraqi government.
The process is straightforward and realistic. No doubt there will be bumps on the path, especially as terrorists have decided to make Iraq a key battlefield in the global war on terrorism. But the Iraqi people, with the full support of the administration and its coalition partners, are on the way to exercising full political sovereignty.
Iraq faces many problems, including decades of under-investment in everything from the oil industry to the sewer system. Security issues are a matter of grave concern. There are other problems as well, but knowing how to turn Iraq into a sovereign state is not one of them.
Last night the president called upon Americans to continue to support the Iraqis in their progress. I am confident that the American people will rise to this challenge as they always do.
The writer is the coalition's chief administrator in Iraq.