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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

More Power to Iraq's Governing Council

Sunday's inauguration in Baghdad of a 25-person governing council marked a significant step toward what should be a universal goal: Iraq governed by Iraqis. The representative of the United Nations, which opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, called the installation one of the "defining moments in history.''

That may be hyperbole. But taken with the earlier formation of neighborhood councils and a Baghdad city council, the national panel should start spreading responsibility for governing the country from the United States back to Iraqis.

The national panel's 22 men and three women represent Iraq's diversity, which can be a source of trouble as well as strength. It is unclear how well representatives of the Kurds will cooperate with the majority Shiite and minority Sunni Muslims and whether these groups will agree on policies. Factions also exist within the religious groups. Democracy is messier than dictatorship.

Quick interviews across the nation showed an unsurprising divide between people happy to see Iraqis getting at least a measure of control and others deriding the council as puppets. The U.S. occupiers chose the new council members, more than half of whom lived in Kurdish-controlled areas or outside Iraq during much or all of Hussein's reign. The quickest road to acceptance will be for the 25 to take as much power as they can; the occupiers can assist by yielding wherever possible.

The pragmatic retreat in Fallouja could be a model. The city is a Sunni stronghold, rife with admirers of Saddam Hussein and guerrillas trying to kill American troops. U.S. officials reduced the troop presence there last week, a demand of Iraqi police who threatened to walk off the job.

If the Iraqis can effectively police the city and prevent attacks on troops and looting of equipment needed to get the electricity turned on, Fallouja can start the return to prewar conditions.

If that progress can be replicated in other cities and regions, the Americans may be able to escape some blame for everything that goes wrong and U.S. troops may become less tempting targets.

The U.S. occupiers retain ultimate authority, but the Iraqi council can appoint interim ministers of government agencies, help draft a budget and set broad national policy. Writing a constitution and keeping the nation from becoming a theocracy on the model of next-door Iran -- where Shiites also predominate -- will be difficult tasks. But three months after the toppling of Hussein, Iraq is this much more free, facing the challenge of not falling into chaos.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.