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Iraq: Governing Council Appears United In Seeking Rapid Transfer Of Sovereignty

  • Valentinas Mite

The issue of when sovereignty in Iraq can be transferred to local authorities has become an important one for the U.S. in its relations with countries like France and Germany, which favor a rapid transfer of power. Now the U.S. is also coming under pressure from within Iraq, from members of its own U.S.-appointed Governing Council. Analysts say that while the council still remains divided on some key issues, it appears united on the issue of transferring at least some authority to local Iraqis as rapidly as possible.

Prague, 24 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council appears united in favoring a rapid transfer of sovereignty from the U.S. to local Iraqis.

Leaders of both pro-Western and Iraqi nationalist elements on the 25-member council now say they would like to see the United States take steps to transfer power and authority to local groups as quickly as possible.

This puts the council nearer to the position of countries like France and Germany, which favor a firm timetable for transferring sovereignty. It also puts the council somewhat at odds with the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush, which agrees to the transfer but declines to give a date.

Yahia Said, an Iraq analyst at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told RFE/RL that a quick transfer of power is now seen by everyone on the council as in his or her interest.

He said the council members are not united, but "somehow their interests have converged -- both [the interests] of the nationalists and of the so-called pro-Western camp -- in seeking a quicker, more visible role for the governing council."

But council members differ as to their motives for supporting a rapid transfer of sovereignty. Some "are seeking a quicker transfer of power to the governing council [simply] out of their interest in gaining power, [and] others for genuine reasons of trying to see an independent and sovereign Iraq materialize quickly."

Said said leaders of exile groups like the Iraqi National Accord and the Iraqi National Congress lack a domestic political base and see a rapid transfer of authority as ensuring they will remain in power.

Said explained that some from these former exile groups "are seeking an accelerated establishment of Iraqi sovereignty in order to gain power because they see that as a sure way for them to get to power without having to go through an electoral process. These people realize that their chances in an electoral process of gaining power are limited."

On the other hand, he said, other council members -- such as Adnan Pachachi, a foreign minister from before the Saddam Hussein era -- seek more power locally because they sincerely want the Americans to leave and for Iraq to be independent.

The council's position was articulated recently by Ahmad Chalabi, its current president. He was in New York this week to represent Iraq at the opening session of the UN General Assembly. In interviews with U.S. news media, he presented himself as a strong advocate of Iraqi sovereignty.

In one interview, he said the Americans "can start by putting Iraqis [in] joint control, with the coalition, of Iraqi finances." He also said Iraqis should be given an immediate role in commanding Iraqi security forces.

The U.S. does not appear to favor a policy of quickly transferring sovereignty. Yesterday, President Bush, speaking at the UN General Assembly, reaffirmed the U.S.'s wish to transfer power eventually, but indicated this may be a long process. "The primary goal of our coalition in Iraq is self-government for the people of Iraq, reached by an orderly and democratic process. This process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis, neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties," Bush said.

On 22 September, Secretary of State Collin Powell said the U.S. does not think the politicians on the council are ready to govern. He said it could take at least a year to complete the political process, which includes writing a new constitution, approving it by referendum, and holding elections.

British analyst Neil Partrick at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit plays down differences between the U.S. administration and the Iraqi Governing Council. Partrick said the council's actual position on sovereignty lies somewhere between the U.S. on one side and France and Germany on the other.

"After all, the Governing Council is seeking to have its powers enhanced -- that's something the U.S. is committed to doing before elections actually take place, and it's not clear the [Governing Council] is necessarily supporting the French position [of a quick transfer of power, in other words, to say] absolutely that sovereignty is to be transferred on an exact date. In some sense, the [council] represents a middle position between the French and German [position and] the Americans'," Partrick said.

Iraq analyst Said said transferring power relatively quickly would suit the U.S. interest of lowering its profile in Iraq. But he is quick to add that U.S. concerns over whether the council could govern effectively are well-founded. There is no efficient Iraqi army or police; even the ministries are looted and not functioning.

Meanwhile, there are signs of increasing irritation between the U.S. and the council, especially Chalabi. Washington seems to be unhappy over recent comments by Chalabi that the U.S.-led coalition is wasting taxpayer money in Iraq. He said, for example, the staff of the U.S. administrator still sends its laundry to Kuwait, an unnecessary expense.

In response, perhaps, "The Washington Post" today quoted an unnamed White House official as saying U.S. authorities are not prepared to transfer sovereignty to "25 unelected people."

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