US troops inaugurated the 44-member council for Al-Anbar province, home to the flashpoint towns of Ramadi and Fallujah, as part of attempts to ease attacks on coalition forces by local insurgents.

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But ressidents in the provincial capital Ramadi say they knew nothing about the council’s first meeting.

Meanwhile the chief administrator of Iraq Paul Bremer has expressed confidence that nationwide elections could be held in less than a year, clearing the way for coalition forces to withdraw from the country. Mr Bremer says the next step in rebuilding Iraq will be the drafting of a new constitution, to be approved by referendum, followed by nationwide elections.

But the pace of the rebuilding effort has come under fire in the US as Saddam loyalists continue attacks on US forces, which have killed 52 soldiers since major combat was declared over on May 1. A US soldier was shot dead and four more wounded in an ambush northeast of Baghdad on Wednesday night, while a second soldier was killed and three wounded yesterday on the road to Baghdad’s airport.

The US military says it will pay $US500 ($A772) for each shoulder-fired missile launcher turned in around Iraq’s flasphoint province of Al-Anbar, where US forces routinely come under attack.

It comes as US secretary of state Colin Powell approved the payout of a $US30 million ($A46 million) reward to the Iraqi who tipped off US forces to the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay.

A reward of up to $US25 million ($A39 million) for information leading to Saddam’s capture is still up for grabs.

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