Commentary on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Hearing on Iraq: Nathan Brown
Guest Commentary by Nathan J. Brown, George Washington University
This week’s Senate Foreign Relations hearings–in which you participated–made headlines partly because they revealed the extent to which basic questions about American plans in Iraq have not been settled. They also alerted Senators and journalists to the extent to which the June 30 restoration of Iraqi sovereignty will be far more limited than had been assumed.
But much of this should have been clear already:
· Security: One of the headlines coming out of the hearings was that the US would still oversee Iraqi security and even Iraqi security forces. But this was not news. In Article 59 of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) the Iraqi armed forces are clearly placed under coalition “unified” (i.e., American) command. More subtly, the TAL cites UN Security Council Resolution 1511, rather than on any decision by the Iraqi government, as the basis for the American presence-obviating the need for the Americans to obtain Iraqi permission for continued presence in the country. A couple journalists did pick up on this at the time, and I tried to point to it in my own commentary on the TAL. But for the most part, the clause escaped notice until this week.
· Elections: Throughout the American occupation, elections keep getting postponed. In the TAL, these are to take place by December 31 of this year, and by January 31 if the December deadline is not met. Brahimi placed great stress on elections in his (still interim) report-he is hardly the first person to do so, but since the Americans embraced his report with such alacrity, there would seem to be little wiggle room. But whatever wiggle room existed has already been used. Bremer (and Brahimi too, by the way) speaks of elections in January 2005, the latest possible date under the TAL (and not the one the TAL favors). And Bremer’s comments hint that even meeting that deadline is dependent on the security situation. On 15 April, Carina Perelli (the head of the UN Electoral Assistance Mission) stressed that meeting the deadline would demand that preparatory work begin immediately. There is no public sign of any move to draft the necessary legislation and construct the required bureaucratic bodies. This is not merely a technical matter. If the legal basis for elections is going to be laid before June 30-and Perelli insisted that it would be-then it will have to be done by the CPA, a body with a significant legitimacy problem. The CPA will have to be far more open and consultative than it has been in
· Detainees: One issue that has received little attention in the US is the large number of people detained by the CPA. Brahimi did raise the issue forcefully, and Bremer responded today by promising faster action and fuller information. But these people are detained by the coalition, and there is no indication that they will be transferred to Iraqi hands by June 30.
· Legal framework: Even as most aspects of the transition remain uncertain, the CPA continues to draft and promulgate significant pieces of legislation. I have analyzed some of these three weeks ago. A British-based organization has also offered some explanation. Since these were written, some significant new orders have been issued, such as one on a stock market (establishing a “Securities and Exchange Commission,” adopting the American title) and another on bankruptcy. There are clearly more in the offing. A Forbes article mentioned “up to 100” pieces of legislation. And while the CPA has posted Orders in numerical sequence skipping some (numbers 72, 73, 76, and 77), suggesting that there are some laws that have been signed but not published. And the TAL itself is not complete, but clearly anticipates an annex in order to fill in the significant gaps on the transitional process.
Interestingly, Bremer spoke today of “full sovereignty.” Were a foreign army able to operate freely in the United States, detain people without charges, insist on consultation in matters of internal governance, and even command American forces, I do not think that would seem so “full.” It may be true (and in fact, I believe it is true) that an immediate American pullout would cause more problems than it would solve. But the obscurity and uncertainty in American plans has clearly done enormous damage to our credibility, as has the reluctance to acknowledge, much less specify, the American role in the country after June 30. It is clear that our leaders do not have answers to all the questions and have not been particularly forthcoming with the answers they do have. Creative ambiguity has its place in politics, but the current confusion serves neither Iraqis nor Americans well.“