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Iraq: Powell Acknowledges Limited Sovereignty For New Government

Polwell (right) with Kofi Annan Prague, 27 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has indicated that the new Iraqi government will get less than full sovereignty in the handover of power set for 30 June.

Powell, speaking yesterday to the Reuters news agency, said the still-undefined government set to take power in Iraq will have to "give up" some of its sovereignty to allow U.S. forces to operate freely in the country. He said this is necessary to provide security.

"It's sovereignty [that the Iraqis will get], but part of that sovereignty they are going to allow us to exercise on their behalf and with their permission. It is not as if we are seizing anything away from them. It is with the understanding that they need our help, and for us to provide that help we have to be able to operate freely, which in some ways infringes on what some would call full sovereignty," Powell said.

Powell's comments are the clearest indication yet that the Iraqis will be getting less than full control over their country on 30 June. That's the date of the expected handover of power from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to a new Iraqi transitional authority.

Earlier, U.S. officials had characterized the 30 June deadline as simply a "transfer of sovereignty" -- implying full sovereignty. But last week, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman first used the term "limited sovereignty." He made clear that the new Iraqi government will have only limited powers -- and no authority over U.S. and coalition forces operating in the country.

The United States has been under increasing pressure -- both within Iraq and internationally -- to turn over sovereignty to Iraqis as quickly as possible. The United Nations has made Iraqi sovereignty a tacit precondition for increased involvement in the country.

Reaction to Powell's comments from inside Iraq has so far been critical.

Nasir Kamil Chadirchi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, today rejected Powell's remarks as "illogical." He told the German news agency dpa, "The ideas that Colin Powell suggested that his country wants to keep some authorities related to Iraq's sovereignty after the handover of power are illogical." Chadirchi, a lawyer, is the leader of the National Democratic Party in Iraq.

It's not clear what effect U.S. plans to limit sovereignty will have on Washington's wider goal of securing a UN resolution to bolster international support for a new transitional government.

Powell yesterday restated the U.S. objective of obtaining a new UN resolution on Iraq. "In order to expand the number of contributors to provide troops to Iraq and other support to Iraq, a new UN resolution would be quite appropriate and proper as we get closer to transferring sovereignty," he said.

"The Washington Post" reported, however, that some members of the UN Security Council are concerned that the new resolution would confirm only partial Iraqi sovereignty and leave a transitional government with little legitimacy. The sovereignty issue is expected to play a major role in the coming UN debate.

Powell acknowledged the thorny issue of sovereignty in connection with a pending UN resolution. But he said he hopes the Iraqi people will understand that U.S. forces are needed to maintain security so that elections can take place.

More will become clear later today when special UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi briefs the Security Council on his plans for an interim Iraqi government (9 p.m. Prague time). The United States has given Brahimi wide scope to craft an interim authority to guide the country until elections can be held early next year.