A dubious power transfer

Print edition : July 02, 2004

The United Nations approves the U.S.-U.K. plan for the transfer of power in Iraq, but the legitimacy of the interim government is already being questioned by Iraqis and others in the Arab world.

HECTIC diplomatic and political activity was witnessed in early June as the Bush administration prepared to go through the motions of transferring power in Iraq by June 30. An interim Iraqi Prime Minster and a President, along with a Council of Ministers, have been approved by the United States and rubber stamped by the United Nations. The Security Council voted unanimously in the second week of June for the joint U.S.-United Kingdom draft resolution outlining the transfer of power. Washington and London had to present four drafts in two weeks to get the approval of the 15-member Council.

Iraqi interim President Ghazi Mashal al-Yawer with U.S. President George W. Bush after their meeting at the G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia, on June 9.-KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

The permanent members of the Security Council, led by France, have been insisting on a clear-cut commitment about the status of the U.S. and U.K. troops in Iraq after the power transfer. France and Germany had submitted an amendment that would have given the Iraqi government virtual veto powers over U.S. military actions inside Iraq after June 30. The Bush administration accommodated the demands of the permanent members France, Russia and China by specifying in the resolution that "sensitive military operations" inside Iraq would be undertaken only after consultations between the U.S. and Iraqi authorities.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Iraqi Prime Minster Iyad Allawi had sent separate letters to the Security Council on the military arrangements after June 30. The letters pledged that U.S. commanders and Iraqi leaders would consult on and coordinate "fundamental security and policy issues including policy on sensitive offensive operations" through a new National Security Committee. They have not, however, clarified what would happen in case of disagreement between U.S. Army officials and the new Iraqi government. The U.N. resolution will give the Iraqi government the theoretical right to order the U.S. troops to leave the country. Top officials at the Pentagon have, however, made it clear that they have no specific time frame in mind for a pullout from Iraq.

The revised resolution presented by the U.S. and the U.K. gave the new government in Baghdad control of the Iraqi Army and police. The resolution also proposed that the mandate of the "multinational forces", that is, the U.S. and U.K. forces, would end by January 2006.

The first couple of drafts prepared by Washington and London did not mention a deadline for the withdrawal of the occupation forces or address the issue of control over Iraqi security forces. In the second week of June, Iyad Allawi said that the Iraqi Army would not be taking orders from the U.S. military. However, he stressed the need for the U.S. and British forces to stay on in Iraq. Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, the interim President, also said that his government would be seeking "full sovereignty" from the U. N.

Chinese Ambassador to the U.N. Wang Guangya said in New York that his country wanted the mandate of the multinational forces to end after the general elections scheduled to be held in January 2005. French Ambassador to the U.N. Jean Marc de La Sabliere wanted the U.S. to define clearly the areas in which the new interim government would be given a free hand.

Most Iraqis are unlikely to view the interim government led by Allawi favourably. A known Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) informer, Alawi, like the rest of the Interim Governing Council to which he belongs, is seen by the average Iraqi as a puppet dancing on U.S.-controlled strings. Washington cleared Allawi's appointment despite the misgivings of U.N. Special Representative to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi. Brahimi, in his efforts to give the new government in Baghdad some credibility, wanted members of the present Interim Governing Council to be out of the reckoning for the top posts. Brahimi wanted a government comprising mainly technocrats.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.-CRIS BOURONCLE/AP

Allawi, like the other contender for the top post, Ahmad Challabi, had misled the Americans about Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Allawi had said before the invasion, that the Iraqi government could deploy WMDs in 45 minutes. Brahimi had stated that the "dictator" of Iraq, Paul Bremer (the U.S. Pro-Consul), had chosen Allawi. According to reports in the U.S. media, the CIA's preference of Allawi took precedence over the Pentagon's liking for Challabi.

RECENT public opinion surveys have reflected the deep-seated Iraqi hostility to the U.S. occupation forces. According to a poll conducted by the Centre for Research, an Iraqi agency that works for U.S. companies, 88 per cent of Iraqis view the Americans as occupiers. As many as 57 per cent want the U.S. military to leave the country immediately.

As the countdown to the "handover" nears its end, the violence against the occupation forces and the Iraqi security forces assisting them, has increased substantially. The official number of U.S. military deaths has now exceeded 700. Car bombs have been exploding with chilling regularity outside U.S. military installations and police stations. The insurgents are targeting foreign mercenaries. Signs are that many of the recent attacks have been coordinated ones, involving Shia and Sunni militants.

Iraqis are sceptical about the assurances being given by the Bush administration about the eventual military withdrawal from Iraq. There are 136,000 U.S. troops in the country, occupying valuable real estate, including four acres in the heart of Baghdad, inside the "green zone". The U.S. is planning to build the largest CIA station in the world in Baghdad and have permanent military bases there. Top U.S. officials have said that the views of the new government in Baghdad will be taken seriously but made it clear that the U.S. troops will never be ordered around by it.

Allawi announced in the second week of June that nine of Iraq's major militias had agreed to "disband". He said that 60 per cent of the militiamen would be integrated into the security services. According to reports, the two Kurdish militias will be allowed to function from their home bases in the north. Iraqi Kurdish leaders are upset that the new U.N. resolution does not talk about "autonomy" for the Kurdish areas. The concession by the new government should make the two influential Kurdish factions represented in the government happy for the time being.

Allawi, unlike Challabi, is a proponent of the controversial policy of "re-Bathification" of the Iraqi security services. The only prominent militia that has been kept out is the one owing allegiance to the radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr. Sadr has refused to recognise the legitimacy of the new government. Though there is an uneasy truce in the holy city of Najaf between the Mahdi militia and the U.S. troops, skirmishes between the two take place in other parts of the country. The U.S. forces have suffered a number of casualties in Sadr city, the stronghold of the radical cleric in Baghdad.

Attempts by Iraqi officials to recover control of the oil revenues from U.S. hands have been cold-shouldered by the U.N. Since the occupation of Iraq started, the Bush administration has been extremely secretive about the exploitation of Iraqi oil and the handling of oil revenues. "A daylight robbery is going on in Iraq," Muzhir al Dulaymi, a spokesman for the League for the Defence of Iraqi Rights, has been quoted as saying.

He alleged that three million barrels of oil is being taken out of Iraq illegally every day and shipped through the Al-Bakr port in Iraq and the Turkish port of Jihan. Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.K. Prince Turki al-Faisal told an Irish newspaper that U.S. officials had predicted a year ago that the war in Iraq would be financed by the oil produced in Iraq. "This indicated that there were those in America who were thinking in terms of acquiring the natural resources of Iraq for America," he said.

The Palestinian poet and writer Tamim al-Barghouti has written that Iraqis and other Arabs do not take the members of the new Iraqi government seriously. He said that when senior Iraqi officials like the new Prime Minister and the President thanked the U.S. for liberating Iraq and at the same time stated that the U.S. had gone too far, they were "accepting the colonial redefinition of Iraq; the Iraq created by the American occupation".

Barghouti echoed the generally held view in the Arab world that the new Iraqi government had been put in place to perform the same function the U.S. would have performed. "The men and women on the Iraqi Governing Council should know that they cannot play the British game again, precisely because it has already been played before. Their verbal attacks against the American occupation should fool no one."

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