IRAQ: The Brahimi Plan

February 15, 2005

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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What is the new proposal for Iraq’s post-occupation government?

The plan being developed by U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi would transfer sovereignty on June 30 to an interim administration with limited powers. The temporary government’s main functions would be providing basic services to the Iraqi people and preparing for national elections.

Who would lead the interim government under the U.N. plan?

A prime minister and cabinet. There would also be a president to act as head of state, and two vice presidents. These leaders, who are expected to reflect Iraq’s religious and ethnic composition, would hold power until elections for a transitional national assembly next January.

How would these leaders be chosen?

They would be appointed by the United Nations in consultation with the United States and Britain--the main occupying powers--the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), and a limited number of other Iraqis. The vast majority of Iraqis will not be directly involved in choosing the new leaders. "Iraq will have a genuinely representative government only after [elections in] January 2005," Brahimi said. The U.N. envoy spent the last two weeks in Iraq formulating the proposal.

How does the U.N. plan differ from the U.S. transition plan?

Under the transition plan signed by the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, and the IGC on November 15, 2003, the interim government would have been selected via a complex series of caucuses overseen by the coalition. Caucus members would have appointed representatives to a national assembly, which, in turn, would have chosen a government from among its members. Elections would have been postponed until December 31, 2005. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric, rejected the caucus system and insisted that elections be held sooner; his objections scuttled the U.S. plan.

Does Sistani support the new plan?

As of April 16, he had not publicly commented on it, but Brahimi had discussed the plan over the telephone with Sistani’s son. The interim government in Brahimi’s plan will not be elected, but it, compared to the U.S. plan, advances the date for national elections by nearly a year.

Does the United States support it?

Yes. President Bush said on April 16 he welcomed the plan. Sistani’s rejection of the previous U.S. transition plan, the mounting violence in Iraq, and the approach of the June 30 handover appear to have prodded administration officials to drop their earlier objections to U.N. participation in Iraq’s postwar politics. Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria, presented an outline of his ideas in Baghdad April 14 and planned to announce further details later this month after consultations in New York with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U.S. and British officials, and other U.N. members.

What has to happen in Iraq before June 30?

U.N. officials, in conjunction with the United States and Britain, must decide which Iraqis will exercise political authority after the scheduled handover. They must also determine the responsibilities of the new Iraqi government and how much control Iraqis will have over the roughly 150,000 U.S. and foreign troops in the country. Iraqis must begin to prepare for national elections. And the anti-coalition insurgency has to be brought under control.

What will happen to the Iraqi Governing Council?

It will be dissolved. The council has suffered from a lack of popular support because many Iraqis consider it too closely allied with the occupying authorities and dominated by Iraqi exiles, Brahimi said. However, some of its members could be appointed to the new interim government as Cabinet ministers or top leaders. Alternatively, they could serve on a second proposed body in the interim government, a so-called consultative assembly.

What is the consultative assembly?

This loya jirga-style body would be a broadly representative but purely advisory council that would serve alongside the government and debate major issues facing the country, such as how to divide power between Iraq’s regions and the central government. It "would serve the all-important aim of promoting national dialogue, consensus building, and national reconciliation in Iraq," Brahimi said. Because of time constraints, Brahimi said this council will not be formed until after June 30.

Do Iraqis support the Brahimi plan?

That is unclear. Brahimi said he consulted with dozens of Iraqis in creating the tentative plan, including representatives of "political parties, trade unions, professional associations and other civil society organizations, women’s groups, academics, intellectuals, and artists." However, because of the difficult security situation, he was unable to travel to most cities outside Baghdad. As a result, Brahimi said his recommendations would be finalized only after he returned to Iraq to conduct more consultations. One critical need: a highly regarded Sunni willing to back the plan. "There is no Sunni Sistani who is going to give his blessing," says Marina S. Ottaway, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Without full participation by the Sunnis, who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime, U.S. and Iraqi forces will face an uphill battle to quell the ongoing insurgency in Falluja and other areas of Sunni-dominated Iraq north and west of Baghdad.

Who is likely to be chosen as a leader in the Brahimi plan?

We don’t know. Brahimi has said that the leaders must be "men and women known for their honesty, integrity, and competence," and has suggested they be chosen according to their qualifications rather than their religious or ethnic identity. He has referred to the interim administration as a "caretaker" government and indicated he would prefer it to be staffed by technocrats instead of Iraqi politicians. However, it is widely expected that Shiites, who make up some 60 percent of the population, will be given the prime ministership and/or the presidency. Sunnis, who account for some 20 percent of the population, and Kurds, who also make up about 20 percent, are expected to each receive at least one vice-presidential post. Among the Iraqis reportedly being considered for top posts are these IGC members:

  • Adnan Pachachi, 80, a widely respected Sunni who served as foreign minister before the Baath Party came to power in 1968.
  • Ibrahim Jafari, a Shiite medical doctor and leader of the Islamist Da’wa Party, which opposed Saddam Hussein and was brutally repressed by his regime. He is reported to be highly regarded by many Shiites.
  • Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), orJalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). These men lead the main political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Will the United States influence the transition?

Yes, experts say. The United States has tremendous leverage: It is providing the bulk of the funds for Iraqi reconstruction--some $18.4 billion--and will retain military command over all the coalition forces in Iraq. U.S. military officials have said they intend to keep forces in Iraq at least until the installation of a permanent Iraqi government at the end of 2005; some experts have said they expect U.S. forces to remain at lower levels after that.

Will the U.N. Security Council consider the transition plan?

Yes. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say they want to sponsor a new U.N. Security Council resolution to mark the handoff to an Iraqi-led government and attract more international support for the transition. However, it remains unclear how much power they are willing to cede to the interim government.

What issues remain unresolved?

There are several:

  • Iraqi authority over security services. The Iraqi interim constitution, signed March 8 by the IGC, states that the reformed Iraqi security forces will remain under the coalition’s "unified command," and therefore under U.S. command, until an elected government is in place. But experts stress that if command decisions can be made without the approval of the sovereign government of Iraq, it will undermine the government’s authority in the eyes of the Iraqi people.
  • Iraqi authority over the presence of coalition troops. Experts say it is unlikely the new government will ask coalition troops to leave, because the foreign forces, much more than Iraq’s security services, guarantee security. Even so, the Iraqi government and coalition forces must agree to a so-called "status of forces agreement" that will govern their relationship.
  • Control over Iraqi oil revenues. Currently, Iraqi oil revenues funnel into the Development Fund for Iraq, a special account that is disbursed at the direction of the occupying authorities, in consultation with Iraqis. This arrangement, according to U.N. Resolution 1483, is due to expire after an "internationally recognized, representative government is established by the people of Iraq." The new U.N. resolution will likely determine whether the interim government meets these qualifications.

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