Brahimi Plan Controversial
Lakhdar Brahimi spoke further on Tuesday about his ideal plan for a caretaker government in the period June 30 – January 31, the run-up to national elections. It seems clear that Brahimi prefers that a handful of high offices be filled by technocrats with no further political ambitions. He thinks that politicians with parties who want to run for office should start their campaigns instead of serving as caretakers. The unspoken concern here is that incumbents might use the advantages of incumbency to position themselves to win the elections next January.
This plan is running into heavy opposition from the Interim Governing Council, most members of which would be excluded under the Brahimi rules. Salamah al-Khafaji told al-Hayat that it made no sense to have a president and two vice presidents. One vice president would be enough, she implied. And she felt it was not useful to have an expanded advisory committee that had no legislative powers, as Brahimi suggests.
Other members of the IGC, including Ibrahim Jaafari, the leader of the al-Da`wa Party and the most popular politician in Iraq, as well as Ahmad Chalabi, Iyad Allawi, and some others appear to be angling for the position of prime minister. If they succeed, then Brahimi’s hopes for a relatively neutral, professional caretaker government will be dashed.
The IGC has in the past also resisted the idea of that body being dissolved on June 30, on which Brahimi insists.
As Bob Dreyfuss points out, these struggles have an international dimension. Ahmad Chalabi, Department of Defense officials like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, and the Israeli government all oppose Brahimi’s role and plans. Secretary of State Colin Powell, some Bush administration centrists, and Saudi Arabia, in contrast, support Brahimi and his approach.
One additional player should be mentioned. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was the one who insisted on UN involvement in the process. He has been highly critical of the expatriate politicians, like Chalabi, whom he sees as corrupt and as working for foreign interests. Brahimi almost certainly would not be playing his current role had it not been for Sistani’s demonstration of Shiite power, which was underlined by the recent uprising led by Muqtada al-Sadr. Although Sistani wanted earlier elections than are now planned, he also wants a limited caretaker government that will do very little other than prepare for elections. The Bush administration turned to Brahimi out of desperation and relative powerlessness, not voluntarily.
Chalabi has carefully larded the IGC and the cabinet with his relatives and cronies, and the Pentagon has given him most of what he wanted, including secret Baath government files that had no business being turned over to a private individual! Rather than democracy, the US has so far brought to Iraq cronyism, nepotism and financial corruption. Brahimi is attempting to move things in a different direction.
The high-handedness of the IGC was again demonstrated on Tuesday, when it issued a new Iraqi flag. It avoided the Arab colors of black and green (both of which have Islamic symbolism) in favor of blue and white, with the Kurdish color of yellow. The phrase “God is Most Great” was also dropped. Many Iraqis rejected the flag, saying an appointed committee of an Occupying power had no authority to change the flag. Some also complained that the new design resembled the Israeli flag.
az-Zaman ran an article quoting Iraqi politicians and intellectuals complaining that the new flag ignores the collective memory of the Iraqi nation, abandoning colors that have been in the flag for 80 years and that tie Iraq to the Arab world.
It seems to me that it is embarrassing for the US-appointed IGC to issue a flag and then just have it overturned by a new parliament next winter, and I cannot fathom why they did this. Like the Bremer administration’s hopes of imposing Polish-style economic shock therapy on socialist Iraq, this plan seems likely to be another hangover of the heady days last summer when the US thought it could shape a new Iraq almost unimpeded.