IRAQ: Interim Authority

February 16, 2005

Backgrounder
Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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What’s the status of Iraqi self-rule?

Ultimate authority in Iraq will remain with the U.S.-led coalition government until Iraqi elections are held, according to the latest plan announced by U.S. officials. Iraqis will be asked to advise ministries, develop economic and political policies, and write a new constitution. On the local level, Iraqi councils chosen with coalition approval will gradually take responsibility for day-to-day government affairs.

What happened to plans for a powerful interim Iraqi government?

For now, they appear to have been scrapped. Instead, the U.S.- and British-led occupation government in Iraq, known as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), will appoint 25 to 30 Iraqi leaders who will serve on an advisory political council. The council will choose Iraqi advisers to the ministries and help organize a national committee to write a new constitution, CPA head L. Paul Bremer III said June 1.

When will the council be formed?

Probably within six weeks, coalition officials said.

What was the earlier plan?

Under Jay Garner, who had been the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq until Bremer’s arrival, Iraqi opposition leaders planned to quickly convene a national Iraqi assembly that would choose Iraqis for a leadership council. Garner said May 5 that "next week, or by the second weekend in May, you’ll see the beginning of a nucleus of a temporary Iraqi government."

Why did the timetable change?

Experts say coalition officials have decided that maintaining control over security in Iraq is more important that a quick transition to Iraqi rule. A number of factors appear to have affected this decision: continued violence against U.S. soldiers, perhaps by holdouts from Saddam Hussein’s regime; fear that Iran’s Islamic rulers could exert influence on the new government in Baghdad; and increasing distrust of Iraqi exile leaders, whose claims of domestic support may have been exaggerated.

U.S. officials in Iraq have also said they want the council to include a broader array of Iraqis than the seven opposition figures who had been preparing to take the helm of an Iraqi transitional government.

Who were the opposition leaders mentioned for leadership roles?

  • Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC). A reported favorite of the Pentagon civilian leadership, he was flown into Iraq with 700 of the INC’s "Free Iraqi Fighters" during the war.
  • Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord (INA). The group is said to be a favorite of some in the Central Intelligence Agency, which supported the group in a failed 1996 coup d’etat against Saddam.
  • Abdelaziz Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Until recently based in Iran, SCIRI has a Badr Brigade militia of some 10,000 men believed to have been trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
  • Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). One of two main Kurd parties, the KDP is based in the northwestern part of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region bordering Turkey. Its forces fought in the 2003 war under the direction of U.S. Special Forces.
  • Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The other major Kurdish party, the PUK is based in the northeastern part of Iraq along the Iranian border. Its forces also fought in the 2003 war under U.S. command.

According to The New York Times, the opposition leaders had selected two other groups to join them in forming the core of a leadership council:

  • A representative of the Shiite Da’wa party, a radical Shiite movement active in Iraq since the 1960s that sought Saddam’s overthrow and was brutally rooted out by his regime.
  • Nasir al-Chadirchy, an Arab Sunni Muslim. According to theTimes, his father, Kamel, was a leading democratic political thinker in Iraq during the 1950s and a founder of the National Democratic Party of Iraq.

Will the coalition disarm the militia of the opposition groups?

Bremer announced that, as part of a general disarmament program, the INC’s Free Iraqi Fighters and SCIRI’s Badr Brigades will have to turn in their weapons. The Kurdish militias will be permitted to retain their arms, according to press reports. The coalition, which has disbanded the Iraqi army, will begin recruiting a new force in late June, Bremer said.

Why is the policy different for the Kurds?

It’s unclear. One issue, experts say, may be a simple matter of trust. The Kurds long resisted Saddam’s rule, and they have appeared more welcoming overall to U.S. occupation authority than Sunnis and Shiites in the rest of the country.

What’s going on at the local level with self-rule?

Coalition officials are establishing city councils to run Iraqi cities, using a variety of different approaches. Results overall have been mixed. In Kirkuk, an ethnically divided northern city, a new municipal council peacefully chose top officials for an interim government, appointing an ethnic Kurdish mayor and an Arab deputy mayor.

In Basra, attempts at establishing a working council have been less successful. An earlier council composed largely of tribal leaders with ties to Saddam’s regime was disbanded, and coalition officials announced they would assume direct control over the city and hand pick an Iraqi advisory council. That plan sparked protests from residents intent on exercising authority over their own affairs.

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