New Iraqi leaders face balancing act

Posted in Iraq | 03-Jun-04 | Author: Steven Weisman| Source: The New York Times

United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (C) is flanked by Iraq┬┤s new Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (L) and President Ghazi Yawar who lead an interim government announced in Baghdad June 1, 2004.
'Full sovereignty' is expected to include a long list of limits

WASHINGTON The new caretaker government in Iraq has been hailed by President George W. Bush as ready to assume "full sovereignty" after June 30. But its first challenge, according to U.S. officials, will be to negotiate sharp limits on that sovereignty in many vital areas, particularly security matters.

Less than a month before the scheduled transfer of power, it remains unclear exactly how much power will be transferred.

The continued presence of nearly 140,000 U.S. troops, and American diplomats in the ministries of the new government, virtually ensures that significant power will remain in U.S. hands. To some, the limits that are emerging are so constraining that they make a mockery of the process.

"It's a charade," said a diplomat at the United Nations, where a resolution blessing the interim government has been proposed by the United States. "The problem is that you need a charade to get to the reality of an elected government next January. There's no other way to do this."

Questions about Iraq's real sovereignty are bound to deepen, according to many diplomats, now that it has become clear that the UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, played a secondary role in setting up the new government, which was named on Tuesday.

People close to the envoy say that the choices, especially that of the prime minister, Iyad Alawi, were essentially negotiated between the United States and the Iraqi Governing Council, which the occupation authorities put together last year.

"The visible role of the Iraqi Governing Council in choosing its own successors in Iraq is more than was anticipated," a U.S. official acknowledged in something of an understatement.

A European diplomat said the choices announced on Tuesday reflected a "very distressing" set of developments. "It's clear that not only the U.S., but also the UN, have ambitions for Iraq that are lower and lower by the day," he said.

As for "full sovereignty," U.S. officials have already said that decision-making authority over security matters will be shared. But according to a second draft of a U.S. and British resolution for the UN Security Council on Iraqi sovereignty, circulated among council members on Tuesday night, the U.S. security mandate would extend to December 2005, after a constitution had been approved and a permanent government put in place.

"It makes clear that the objective for Iraqis is to progressively play a greater security role and ultimately to assume responsibility for maintenance of security and stability in Iraq," the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said.

But difficult security questions, like whether Iraqi forces can refuse to join in a U.S. military operation, are left for future negotiations.

Confusion over sovereignty extends beyond military matters to questions of legal immunity for American