Us Moves To Hand Sovereignty To Iraqis

US moves to Hand Sovereignty to Iraqis by June; Well, Sort of

We now know what the anonymous Arab diplomat meant when he told the New York Times that he had met with Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and that all of them were focused on an “exit strategy” for Iraq.

ABC News seems to have been the first to get the details Friday of the plan presented by Paul Bremer to the Interim Governing Council. My concise paraphrase is as follows:

1. The Interim Governing Council will craft a Basic Law allowing a transitional government to be elected and operate.

2. By the spring, each of Iraq’s 18 provinces will hold conventions made up of notables, elders and tribal chieftains. These conventions will elect altogether 200-300 members of the interim parliament, based on proportional representation. This interim parliament would in turn elect a prime minister. This process would be complete by June, 2004.

3. Mr. Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority would hand over power to the new government. and close up shop. The US and UK military would remain in Iraq, however, and the new government could invite other international contributors of troops and other help.

4. The Interim government would hold elections for delegates to a constitutional convention to draft the new constitution, in accordance with the fatwa or legal ruling of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

5. Formal elections on the basis of one person, one vote, will be held to install a new government, to which the interim government will hand power.

IGC member Mahmud Othman said that the US may seek a new UN security council resolution blessing this plan (-al-Hayat). The new US vision is close in form if not in timetable to plans put forward by the French this fall calling for a new sovereign Iraqi government to be created by the end of 2003, leaving the drafting of the constitution until later. In essence, the French have won, though the process will be slower than they had wanted.

This plan is intended to achieve the beneficial result of the restoration of sovereignty to the Iraqi people without risking that they will elect an anti-American government. Obviously, if genuine elections were permitted right now, there is some risk that extreme Arab nationalists and radical Sunni and Shiite Muslims might have undue influence in the parliament.

This sort of outcome occurred in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province when the US pressed General Musharraf to hold elections last year this time. The Pakistani Pathans (Pushtuns) put the religious parties in power in that province, and helped them capture 17 percent of seats in the national parliament. Some of those same religious parties had trained the Taliban! These religious parties have essentially paralyzed the parliament for the past year.

It is to avoid this outcome that the US is stage-managing the election by controlling the electorate. It will not be Iraqis at large, but rather pre-screened relatively pro-American notables. This process will be controversial, and may well over-represent rural elements like the tribes over urban ghettoes like East Baghdad (home to a lot of radical Shiites). The Washington Post noted, While there appears to be broad public support for a fast handover of sovereignty, there also is a strong desire among many Iraqis to choose their new leaders — even interim ones — through an election.. It quoted IGC member Samir Sumaidy (a Sunni from Diyala) as saying, “It will be difficult, in some places, to determine who will be the best people to attend such meetings. Selection is a process that is open to challenge.”

On the other hand, the Shiites seem to like the plan. Adil Abdul Mahdi of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq said that he met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Thursday and “He blessed the whole process . . . This is a very good achievement, taking into the account the real situation in the country. This is a real achievement.” But he also wanted, according to the NYT, a pullback of US forces from the cities: “The occupation itself is a source of insecurity.”

A Shiite member of the old preparatory commission for the constitution (who was almost assassinated in September), Shaikh Jalal Uldin Saghir, told the NYT, “Of course we want a constitution, but it is not as much a priority as sovereignty . . .”I think we can have elections by the end of 2004 . . . But, before that, we must go through a process of transferring authority and a transitional period.”

There has been widespread dissatisfaction with the old, purely appointed Interim Governing council. According to the Associated Press, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrisi (Modaresi) warned that an attempt by the US to solve the Iraq crisis by military means “will only make things worse.” He complained, “Seven months have passed and there hasn’t been one serious election. Coalition forces have chosen the Governing Council, distributed ministries the same wrong way and did not hold elections for the provincial councils. They chose them randomly and for this reason many Iraqi are suspicious about the intentions of these forces.”

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