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Iraq: U.S. Under Increasing Pressure To Transfer Power

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking yesterday in Iraq's capital Baghdad, said the United States is committed to having Iraqis run their own country but rejected any quick transfer as advocated by some members of the UN Security Council.

Prague, 15 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. is under increasing pressure to transfer political power in Iraq to Iraqis.

The pressure is coming from some members of the United Nations Security Council, led by France, and from individuals on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad.

The U.S. and other permanent Security Council members discussed the issue of transferring power in Iraq at talks over the weekend in Geneva.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking yesterday in Baghdad, did not give a date for when sovereignty would be handed back to Iraqis. He said there are still many problems to deal with.

"Everybody would like to accelerate this [process of handing over security and authority to a new Iraqi government]," he said. "Everybody wants this to go fast. We don't want to stay here a day longer. It is expensive. Our young soldiers would like to get home to their families. So we are not hanging on for the sake of hanging on. We are hanging on because it is necessary to stay with this task until a new government has been created -- a responsible government. The worst thing that could happen is for us to push this process too quickly -- before the capacity for governance is there and the basis for legitimacy is there -- and see it fail," Powell said.

Powell also said that the future government needs legitimacy in order to survive. "Governments, to survive -- the kinds of government that we want to see Iraq have -- have to have legitimacy," he said. "And legitimacy comes from having a constitution -- a constitution that has been ratified by the people. And once you have that constitution you then give legitimacy to the new government through elections -- elections that represent the view of the people. I conveyed that to the Governing Council in very direct terms."

Some influential members of the Iraqi Governing Council also insist the time has come to put more responsibility on Iraqi shoulders. Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and this month's council president, said the council wants to achieve the transfer of power, "as soon as possible."

Other influential politicians echoed the demand. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an influential Shi'a Muslim party, supports Chalabi's claims. Iraq's interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zabari, said he hopes an elected government can be in place by mid-2004 or before the end of next year.

Yahia Said, an Iraq analyst at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told RFE/RL the situation on the ground indicates that the transfer of power has to be accelerated.

However, he said it will take a longer time than is generally realized for Iraq to regain its sovereignty. He said for the foreseeable future, the main security force in the country will remain coalition troops -- no matter how much power is transferred to the Iraqis.

"I think also one important thing is no matter how much sovereignty is transferred to the [Iraqi Governing] Council, the fact that the main security force in Iraq would remain for a longer, for an extended period of time, the coalition troops, will always mean that the sovereignty, council's sovereignty in power is somehow circumscribed," Said said.

Simon Jenkinson is a researcher in the University of Exeter's politics department. He believes the U.S. probably won't leave Iraq soon. Jenkinson said he cannot imagine the U.S. completely giving up control of Iraq after having gone to war for it. "Having been to the trouble of going to war for Iraq, I doubt they just would give [control] up," he said. "I think things haven't gone wrong badly enough for them yet."

However, Said said the disagreements between the U.S. and France and other Security Council members are probably not as dramatic as portrayed in the media. He said all the parties -- including the Iraqis -- favor transferring authority as quickly as possible.

"I think everyone is keen to see a transfer of authority to [...] to some form of government transfer [of] sovereignty as soon as possible," he said. "The only question is what the various groups' estimate of the speed of the transition process and what [is] the most viable approach -- and my prediction is they will be able to reach a compromise on this one, unlike the previous time in the case of the war," he said.

Said said the discussions on the Iraq problem will inevitably bring positive results. "The more there is talk from the UN, from the international community to give the Iraqi Governing Council more power, the more power Iraqis will have in the future," he said.