The U.S.-led authority in Baghdad is moving ahead with its much-postponed plans for limited power sharing with Iraqi leaders. News reports say an Iraqi council will be inaugurated this month and may be invested with some executive powers, rather than being merely an advisory panel.
Prague, 9 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is set to inaugurate a first Iraqi council that will participate in the running of the country.
In recent days, chief civil administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer has begun talking of the imminent emergence of a U.S.-appointed 25- to 30-member council that will include representatives from a wide range of key Iraqi groups.
Bremer also has begun referring to the body as a "governing council," indicating it will have some executive powers. Previously, U.S. officials had talked of any Iraqi leadership group as a "political council," suggesting its role would merely be to advise the CPA.
U.S. officials in Baghdad have told reporters privately that they expect Bremer to inaugurate the new council this month and possibly as early as this weekend. "The New York Times" reported yesterday that the CPA has already designated the former Ministry of Military Industries building in central Baghdad as the future home of the body, giving it offices clearly separate from the U.S.-British administration.
Just what the powers of Iraq's first postwar domestic authority will be has not yet been detailed by the CPA. But members-to-be of the group have said in recent days that they only agreed to join it after Bremer promised the powers would be significant.
Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister and head of a secular political party, the Association of Independent Democrats, told Reuters in an interview yesterday that "the council will appoint ministers and enact laws whether those are related to currency, education, economy, and all other fields."
Pachachi, who is widely tipped to head the governing council, also told Britain's daily "The Guardian" yesterday that the leadership group will pass an electoral law and laws on political parties and the media, as well as make recommendations for overhauling the educational and judicial systems. He said its chairman will receive foreign ambassadors and foreign dignitaries, making the council a body that also represents Iraq to the outside world.
Bremer said yesterday in Baghdad that he will retain "ultimate authority" in any disputes between himself and members of the council. It is not clear how long the council would serve, as Washington says it wants to ultimately transform Iraq into a more democratic state. Many U.S. officials and analysts have estimated a full-fledged Iraqi government could be several years away.
The imminent inauguration of the governing council -- which some press reports refer to as an Iraqi interim government -- comes after months of prolonged negotiations between Iraqi political leaders and the CPA over how the council would be formed. U.S. officials had originally envisioned some sort of power sharing with Iraqi leaders beginning as early as May, but disputes continually postponed the process.
Many Iraqi leaders had earlier insisted that the council be chosen by Iraqis in a national convention -- an idea once broached by Bremer's predecessor General Jay Garner but later rejected by Bremer in favor of direct U.S. selection.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq correspondent Sami Shoresh says another factor delaying the formation of the council was uncertainty over who would represent Iraq's majority Shi'ite community.
Shoresh says that Iraq's Sunni minority, who have traditionally dominated Iraqi politics, and the Iraqi Kurds -- whose leaders have progressively settled their past factional disputes -- had clear leaders for Washington to choose from. But the Shi'a, whose best-organized parties were previously exile groups based in Iran, posed a tougher problem.
"If Americans want to find Sunnis, it is not difficult, because they were the owners of the Iraq state during the last 80 years and they are appearing on the [political] stage. Even the Kurds solved their problem, when [Kurdish leaders Jalal] Talibani and [Massoud] Barzani had a peace agreement between them and now they are trying to unify their administrations. The main problem was with the Shi'as," Shoresh says.
The best-known Shi'a party -- the Supreme Council of Islamic Resistance in Iraq (SCIRI) -- is led by Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, who long called for Iraq to become an Islamic state but now says he is willing to work within a democratic system. The party, with funding from Tehran, regularly launched armed operations from Iran against Saddam Hussein until returning from exile earlier this year.
Partly to widen the base of Shi'a political representation -- and partly to overcome their own worries over SCIRI's Iran connections -- U.S. officials spent much time over the past weeks encouraging dialogue between SCIRI and the Iraqi Shi'a community's top religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a moderate who often says clerics should stay out of politics.
Shoresh says Washington's efforts have had some success.
"Now there is a little bit of closer links and cooperation between Sistani and Baqir al-Hakim, and this is something America wants to happen because both of them have the main power among Shi'as," Shoresh says. "Sistani has the religious power and al-Hakim has the political power and military power. And if these two parties have contacts, cooperation, and good relations between them they can represent the Shi'as to some extent."
News reports say the Shi'a community -- which comprises some 60 percent of the population -- will hold the majority in the new Iraqi governing council. The council will be the first governing body in Iraq that has not been dominated by the Sunni minority.
The council is to include representatives from Iraq's seven major political groups: the Shi'a-based SCIRI and Islamic Dawa parties; the two main Iraqi Kurdish parties, the PUK and KDP; and three secular groups -- the Iraqi National Congress, the Iraqi National Accord, and the Association of Independent Democrats. The only major party still opposed to the council is the Communist Party, whose leaders still insist its members be elected rather than appointed.
"The New York Times" recently quoted unidentified coalition officials as saying the council also will include some 20 other members, either from smaller parties or independents, among them three or four women.