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Iraq: Contours Of Sovereignty Unclear As Handover Looms

  • Robert McMahon --> Wreckage of car from blast that killed Uthman U.S. officials say the killing of the Iraqi Governing Council president will not deter plans for handing over sovereignty. But it remains unclear what that sovereignty will amount to, amid questions about control over security forces and development funds. The uncertainty may be cleared up by a new UN Security Council resolution. But for now, the confusion is delaying major commitments by key states to safeguard and support the next stage of Iraq's transition.

United Nations, 18 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. and UN officials have reaffirmed their commitment to the 30 June transfer of power in Iraq after the killing of Governing Council head Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad, also known as Izz al-Din Salim.

But less certain are details about the extent of the sovereignty Iraqi officials will assume in six weeks.

A number of key officials made clear yesterday that the U.S.-led coalition cannot expect contributions of peacekeepers and other major aid if it remains a de facto occupying presence in the country. U.S. officials have stressed that the power transfer is genuine, although there has been recent confusion in the administration about some aspects of the handover.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri told reporters at UN headquarters yesterday that there will need to be a new Security Council resolution soon that spells out a central UN role in Iraq's transition. He told reporters that Pakistan's own contributions to a possible protection force for UN staff in Iraq -- sought by Washington -- will depend on the outcome of the resolution. "Before we take any decision, we have to know what the UN presence is going to be," he said. "That, in turn, will depend on what sort of a resolution there is and what sort of an acceptance [there is] by the Iraqi people and the countries surrounding Iraq."
The Security Council resolution under discussion is expected to clarify the role of U.S.-led international forces and their relation to Iraqi forces.

A protection force for UN staff may be a moot point because UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has made clear he will not authorize a major UN presence under current security conditions. Annan said yesterday that UN teams led by his chief envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and top election adviser, Carina Perelli, are in Iraq under strict security arrangements. He said limited UN teams will continue to operate in a "cautious and careful" manner.

He told reporters that security conditions might not stabilize for many months. "[I have indicated in the past that] for those fighting the occupation, those who are genuinely concerned about the occupation, when the occupation ends and they have achieved their objective, there should be no reason for them to continue. But there are others who will continue resisting and fighting until perhaps every foreign soldier has left Iraq," Annan said.

The Security Council resolution under discussion is expected to clarify the role of U.S.-led international forces and their relation to Iraqi forces.

Russia and France, which opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, want the Iraqi caretaker government to have greater control over security forces than envisaged by U.S. planners. Council members have also sought clarification from U.S. officials on the extent to which international agencies will continue to have accounting authority over the spending of Iraqi assets and oil revenues.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said U.S. officials in the weeks ahead will enter into a series of agreements that make sure there is a common understanding on political and military relations. He indicated on 14 May that Iraqi authorities will have control over local police. But it is important, he said, that Iraqi military leaders ultimately report to the commander of U.S.-led forces.

"For purposes of unity of command and working with the multinational coalition forces, [Iraqi forces] will report to the single commander of the overall force. Otherwise, you would have chaos. We have had arrangements like this in a number of countries over the years, and we think we know how to do it, and we think it's workable," Powell said.

Earlier last week, top officials from the State Department and Defense Department gave contradictory testimony to a Congressional committee about whether U.S. forces would withdraw if asked by Iraqi officials. Powell later affirmed U.S. forces would pull out if requested but said that is considered a remote possibility.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday that Iraqi officials have repeatedly expressed their desire for U.S. forces to remain after the handover to ensure stability. Ereli added that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has already transferred effective power in 11 ministries, including the Foreign, Defense, and Health ministries.

But a report in "The Wall Street Journal" has raised questions about the ability of the interim Iraqi government to act independently. The article, which appeared on 13 May, said that CPA advisers will hold positions of influence in virtually all remaining ministries after the handover. The article also said new commissions created this spring by the CPA -- staffed by both Americans and Iraqis -- will have authority to run criminal investigations, award contracts, and direct troops.

Such arrangements are likely to be addressed in intense Security Council consultations in the days ahead. For those talks to succeed, Washington will need to show it is willing to cede authority, said Anne-Marie Slaughter, the dean of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Slaughter told RFE/RL that for the handover to be credible, there has to be an Iraqi political body that visibly exercises independent authority, which will mean at times disagreeing with U.S. officials. "The United States authorities have to understand that democracy of any kind -- this is a highly modified form -- must include a measure of autonomy that can mean actual disagreement on what's best," she said. "That's the substance of what we're promoting, rather than the rhetoric."

Slaughter said U.S. efforts to galvanize international support in Iraq have been undermined by differing signals from the U.S. State and Defense departments about issues like the UN's role in Iraq. She said U.S. President George W. Bush needs to be clear and consistent about U.S. policy in Iraq to improve Washington's chances of internationalizing the coalition.

"Once we're speaking with one voice -- [once] the U.S. government is speaking with one voice -- then there has to be a genuine commitment to working with our NATO allies within a UN framework. I think only there will you get the kind of guarantee that there is going to be enough soldiers and enough longer-term commitment for other countries to start thinking this is worth doing," Slaughter said.

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, met at the weekend with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. She also met yesterday in Berlin with national security advisers from 10 European nations. Rice said she found broad agreement on the desire to quickly agree on a new UN resolution on Iraq. But it was not immediately clear whether progress had been reached on sovereignty issues raised by key Security Council members.