*AFP is reporting that Jay Garner, head of the Pentagon’s reconstruction effort in Iraq, has appointed 5 Iraqi leaders as the core of a new Iraqi government. He is said to have named: Massoud Barzani from the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Jalal Talabani of the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim from the Supreme Assembly for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord.
This report is remarkable for a number of reasons. First, the last leadership conference in Baghdad decided to meet in June and elect a transitional government. Garner appears to have forestalled that process by jumping the gun. Then, some press reports had said that L. Paul Bremer, the State Department favorite to head the civilian administration of Iraq, would preside over the formation of an Iraqi government. If the AFP report is true, Garner has attempted to constrain the range of decision-making to be exercised by his local and civilian successors. He says he realizes the list could change. But kicking someone off after they have been appointed won’t be easy. This is a fait accompli, folks. The list has 3 Sunni organizations, one Shiite organization based in Iran, and one unrepresentative wealthy Shiite expatriate against whom crowds in Iraq have chanted. Since Shiites are 60% of the population, they are woefully underrepresented here.
Barzani and Talabani are long-time Kurdish political leaders of real standing, who have been actually tested by the electoral process in Iraqi Kurdistan under the US no-fly zone in the 1990s. They make perfect sense, and you could not have one without the other (they feud occasionally). Chalabi has all along been the Pentagon’s choice for Iraqi president of a transitional government. Iyad Allawi and his Iraqi National Accord represent former Baath officials, mostly Sunni, who turned against the regime and cooperated with the US CIA & etc. They are said to be popular in the Sunni center of Iraq, in places like Tikrit and Falluja, though that allegation has yet to be tested. I can only think that the Kurds and Shiites would find it difficult to forgive them their former associations. (I am now told that Allawi himself is Shiite, but an organization of high Baath ex-officials would be largely a Sunni constituency).
The LAT is reporting that Garner says none of the remaining 4 slots on the leadership council will go to Shiites. This seems to me a very big mistake and Bremer should simply undo that dictat when he arrives. As things now stand, the Shiites are virtually disenfranchised–SCIRI can’t possibly represent more than 20 percent of them, and since very few are wealthy expatriates, Chalabi represents almost none.
The big surprise here is Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI was threatening not so long ago to have its militiamen shoot at US troops if they overstayed their welcome. SCIRI turns out not to have as much support inside Iraq as was once thought, though they are influential in some cities near Iran and are doing organizing everywhere in the South. They are far less important than the Sadr Movement, from all accounts. In essence, in choosing the al-Hakims and SCIRI, Garner has more or less excluded the powerful Sadr movement, which appears to have the allegiance of several million Shiites in Iraq. It also excludes the al-Da`wa party, which refused to deal with a Pentagon office and insisted on having its relations with the US be mediated by civilians. The al-Hakims are close to Iranian hardliners and this choice likewise excludes moderate Iraqis following the quietist Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. In short, the inclusion of al-Hakim is extremely puzzling from a political standpoint.
Garner envisions these five as being joined by others, up to a nine-man committee (note that no women appear to be in the running). But these five surely have an advantage now. They appear to be the picks of the Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz team at the Department of Defense.
I can’t imagine these five getting along with one another very long, nor can I imagine the disenfranchised Sadr Movement agreeing to its own voicelessness for very long. Put on your seat belts; this looks like a very bumpy ride to me.