Fateful US Choices in Iraq
Rory McCarthy, writing for the Guardian from Baghdad, has outlined the new policy options facing Paul Bremer now that his original 7-stage plan has been abandoned.
“Plans now being considered include:
· Letting an enlarged governing council immediately take over the responsibilities of a transitional government
· Enlarging the governing council by choosing several hundred Iraqis from trade unions, tribes and professions, as well as other community leaders
· Closing down the governing council and holding general elections to find candidates for a new transitional government
· Choosing one Iraqi to emerge as president of the new transitional authority
· Drawing up an electoral law under a new transitional government to prepare for general elections
· Delaying the drafting of a constitution until after an election.”
Let me just comment on some of these. Letting the Interim Governing Council take over the responsibilities of a transitional government is not really a new policy. This step is gradually being implemented. The problem is that the IGC is illegitimate, since it was appointed by the Occupying Powers. It does not derive its sovereignty from the Iraqi body public.
Enlarging the IGC to become a sort of parliament would be fine, but the delegates must be elected in some way if they are to be legitimate. They could select a president or prime minister from among themselves. (I am not suggesting the “Afghan model” here, since Iraq is a largely urban, literate society and must conduct elections in a more sophisticated way).
Appointing one Iraqi as president of the new transitional authority is likewise unrealistic. He would just be seen as an American puppet and would lack legitimacy and authority.
Obviously, some sort of basic electoral law will have to be in place for any sort of new political process to proceed.
Here is what I wrote on October 7, 2003, and it has a lot of application to the decisions the US has to take. Remember that Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s fatwa has stymied the move toward calling a constitutional convention, since he insisted that it be elected (the Kurds and the US don’t want that method used). Sistani has enormous moral authority. And he has already made it clear that a new Iraqi government that is not elected will not be legitimate:
The Interim Governing Council issued a new law on Iraqi nationality in September, allowing dual citizenship. A number of the IGC members have dual citizenship, which was prohibited under the Baath regime, and holders of dual nationality were forbidden to hold office. The new law also allows someone to become an Iraqi citizen even when his or her parents are unknown.
The law has drawn a sharp rebuke from the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his colleagues in Najaf, who issued a fatwa or ruling denouncing the new law. The fatwa reminds the IGC that it has no legitimacy, since it has neither been recognized by the Najaf religious authorities nor been recognized by the Iraqi people through any sort of election. It says that the IGC should stick to issues such as security and services, and that it has no business attempting to legislate broadly, more especially when its legislation contradicts Shiite law. (-al-Sharq al-Awsat).
The fatwa is not so important for its stance on the nationality law as for what it says about the Interim Governing Council’s standing. Sistani has for the first time openly said that the IGC lacks legitimacy and that he has declined to give it his approval. He has also indicated that any Iraqi government could become legitimate only if it were both elected and approved by the religious institution.
The point is that Sistani can make life miserable for a new government that is only appointed by the US, not in some way selected by the Iraqis. (I know that the US will try to manipulate the results of the election, but most elected bodies would be better than rule by US fiat).