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Iraq: Transfer Of Sovereignty Raises Questions, Hopes Among Officials

The Iraqi Governing Council recently announced plans for the U.S.-led administration in Iraq to hand over power to a provisional government by the end of June. While many of the specifics of the transfer remain to be worked out, Iraqi officials say they hope the final result will be the most democratic government in the Arab world.

Baghdad, 20 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- An agreement signed last weekend by top U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer and the Iraqi Governing Council envisions a three-step process leading to a provisional Iraqi government by 1 July 2004.

First, the Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) must agree on a "fundamental law" that will govern the transition period. The law -- to be in place by the end of February -- will set out the scope and structure of the interim government. Secondly, provincial caucuses will choose a transitional assembly by the end of May. Finally, the transitional assembly will elect a sovereign government by the end of June. The CPA will be abolished, although U.S. and coalition troops are expected to remain in the country.

Iraqi officials say the second stage could be the most difficult. Many ordinary Iraqis say they will not accept a transitional assembly if its members are selected, rather than elected, believing they will only be U.S. puppets. Iraqi politicians are not so pessimistic and hope the transitional assembly will pave the way to a full transfer of sovereignty.

Adnan Pachachi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, told RFE/RL that provisional bodies are usually not elected in a popular vote but says that does not mean they lack sovereignty. He says the UN resolution adopted on 17 October states that the Governing Council embodies the sovereignty of the Iraqi state. He said the country will "build on that" when it creates the provisional bodies.

Nasir Kamil Chadirchi, also a member of the Governing Council, says the transitional bodies will be both selected and elected. Chadirchi says local councils, political parties, and the Governing Council itself will select the transitional assembly, which will then elect a provisional government.

"We don't have a mechanism [for the elections] yet, but we do not ban anybody [from taking part]. The idea is to be open. At this stage, there will be something between election and selection because the security situation does not permit us [to hold full elections]. But if we had security, then we would have general elections," Chadirchi said.

He notes the members of the Iraqi Governing Council will have no special privileges and that its members will not automatically become members of the transitional bodies.

Chadirchi said the absence of voter registration rolls in Iraq should not stop "some kind of elections where members of the provisional government would get popular approval." He says voting could be based on the ration cards issued under the Saddam Hussein regime. He says everyone in Iraq has such a card, which he says cannot be easily forged.

Chadirchi says no one will be excluded from being considered for positions on the transitional bodies, with a few exceptions. "The general requirement for the candidates is, for example, that Ba'athists, high-ranking officers of [the former Iraqi Army] will have no right to nominate themselves," he said.

The 70-year-old Chadirchi says he has only voted once in his life and that sitting on the council has given him a whole new outlook on the challenges of democracy. He admits that the process of putting the transitional bodies in place may fall short of Western democratic standards. But he says the procedure will in any case be more democratic than the way all other Arab governments have come to power.

"Which Arab government that rules in the Arab world now was elected?" Chadirchi asked. "I am certain that [the future Iraqi government] will be one of the most democratic governments in the Arabic world."

He said the U.S.-appointed Governing Council is already one of the "most democratic councils in the Arab world, with 25 persons -- Shi'a, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Assyrians, communists, and others sitting at the same table and negotiating in a democratic way."

Not everyone is convinced about the efficacy of the transfer to a provisional Iraqi government, however. Shaykh Abd al-Jabbar Menhal, who represents the powerful Shi'a movement Al-Hawza Al-Ilmia in Baghdad, is concerned about adequate Shi'a representation on future Iraqi governing bodies. Al-Hawza is an international network of Shi'a universities, and its elders are regarded as the final authority on religious and political matters for Shi'a worldwide.

He says that permitting the Shi'a majority to take responsibility for the country in a democratic manner is the only way to guarantee future stability in Iraq. "If you ask me to advise America to solve the problem [of Iraq], I would suggest that America should give a part for the majority of the Iraqi people," he said.

Menhal says a selection process for members of the provisional bodies that does not recognize Shi'a Arabs could further antagonize them against U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq. Shi'a Arabs -- who make up more than 60 percent of Iraq's population -- were never adequately represented in any Iraqi government.

Under the plan agreed by the U.S. and Iraqi Governing Council, a fully democratic government is expected to be in place in Iraq by the end of 2005.