IRAQ: The June 30 Handover

February 16, 2005

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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What is the plan for the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to Iraq?

It’s a work-in-progress. The date won’t change, U.S. and U.N. officials say, but much else remains unclear. Among the unresolved issues: Who will run the new government? How much power will it have? What relationship will it have to U.S. forces? Will it be able to change laws approved by American occupation authorities and their handpicked Iraqi Governing Council (IGC)? How much oversight will the United States and other countries have over Iraqi oil revenues?

When will these issues be settled?

President Bush will address some of them May 24 in the first of a series of speeches on Iraq. Also on May 24, the United States and Britain introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution outlining their vision for the interim government. It appears to be headed for Security Council approval, perhaps with some modifications. Additional clarity will come when the United Nations names the new Iraqi government, which is expected to occur in the last week of May or early June. A vote on the U.N. resolution is expected shortly afterward.

How will the United Nations select members of the new government?

Via a process of consultation. The U.N. special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, has met with political figures, civic leaders, religious authorities, IGC members, and other Iraqis, and is compiling a list of candidates. He has also conferred with L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and Robert D. Blackwill, an aide to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Brahimi is expected to consult U.N. Security Council members, Arab leaders, and others before disclosing his choices in order to ensure that they are widely acceptable.

How many Iraqis is Brahimi choosing?

Thirty--a president, two vice presidents, a prime minister, and 26 ministers. A key job for these officials will be preparing for elections scheduled for January 2005. After that vote, the elected government will begin drafting a new constitution.

Will most Iraqis have a say in the choice?

No. As a result, some observers worry that the appointed government will command little public respect. U.S. and U.N. officials agree that true legitimacy won’t be achieved until Iraq has an elected government. "The key thing, I think, is going to be not when they have a sovereign appointed government, but when they have a sovereign elected government," Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told Congress May 18. "The administration is hoping that this interim government buys time for two elections, one in the United States and one in Iraq," says Lee Feinstein, senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy and international law at the Council on Foreign Relations.

How is power distributed among the top four posts?

News reports indicate that the prime minister will be the chief executive, assisted by a president and two vice presidents. Iraq’s population is approximately 20 percent Arab Sunni, 20 percent Kurdish, and 60 percent Shiite. As a result, a Shiite is expected to serve as prime minister, and the other three posts will be divided among the three groups.

Will the leaders be technocrats or politicians?

Brahimi initially suggested that members of the caretaker government ought to be nonpartisan technocrats rather than political figures, who could use government posts to position themselves for next year’s elections. But Iraqi politicians and U.S. officials balked; it now appears politicians will serve in the interim administration. "We think there’s probably a place for some politicians and people who are not necessarily technocrats." They have a stake in Iraqi society," said Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, in congressional testimony May 13. Grossman said Bremer and Blackwill are in close contact with Brahimi to "make sure he understands our views on this issue."

Which politicians are under consideration?

One name often mentioned for the largely ceremonial role of president is Adnan Pachachi, 80, a Sunni who served as Iraqi foreign minister before the Baath Party came to power in 1968. Names floated for the vice president posts include Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Shiite leader Ibrahim Jafari, a medical doctor and leader of the Islamist Da’wa Party. Da’wa is a Shiite movement active in Iraq since the 1960s that sought Saddam Hussein’s overthrow and was brutally rooted out by his regime. Brahimi is reportedly considering a wide range of candidates for the powerful prime ministerial slot.

What will the U.S. role be after June 30?

The United States will still have a major presence in Iraq. U.S. officials are finalizing plans for a massive American embassy of some 1,000 Americans. It will be located in the heavily fortified "Green Zone"--where the CPA is located--in the center of Baghdad. Some 200 Americans and other foreign nationals will continue to work in Iraqi ministries as advisers, Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone, the State Department’s coordinator for the Iraq transition, said May 19. Some 135,000 U.S. soldiers will remain to provide security and continue fighting foreign terrorists and local insurgents. Additional U.S. forces may be added if the violence in Iraq intensifies, said General John P. Abizaid, commander of American forces in the Middle East, in congressional testimony May 19. "This is not going to be a light American footprint," says Marina Ottaway, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Is violence in Iraq likely to increase after June 30?

It’s unclear, but some U.S. military officials are predicting that it will. General Abizaid said May 19 he thought "the situation will become more violent" after the June 30 handover "because it will remain unclear what’s going to happen" between then and the end of the year.

When will the Iraqi security forces be ready to secure the country?

Abizaid said it might take until April 2005 before U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces are fully functioning. There are currently some 200,000 Iraqis working with the U.S.-led coalition on security matters, but the majority has not been trained. "We are not going to hand off security on 1 July writ large across the country to the Iraqi security forces," Lieutenant General Walter Sharp, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress May 18. By July 1, he said, "we’ll have approximately 10 percent of the total required Iraqi police academy-trained, and another 20 percent trained by the shorter three-week program that our military does throughout the country."

Will Iraq be fully sovereign after June 30?

The draft U.N. resolution presented May 24 by the United States and Britain "endorses the formation of a sovereign interim government" to take office by June 30 that "would assume the responsibility and authority for governing a sovereign Iraq." But there will be limits on the government’s authority. Among them: it won’t have full command of its own armed forces and won’t be authorized to expel U.S. and other forces without U.N. Security Council approval. The government will have control over its own oil revenues, but an international board will continue to audit Iraqi spending.

What have U.S. officials said about the issue of Iraqi sovereignty?

Testifying before Congress in April, undersecretary of state Grossman said Iraq would have "limited sovereignty" until the 2005 elections. More recently, he and other U.S. officials have said the interim government will have "full sovereignty" but "limited authority." This distinction--which some experts say appears to reflect a shift in language but not in policy--has confused lawmakers. "How can a sovereign government have limited authority?" Representative Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) asked Grossman May 13. Grossman responded that the decision to limit the power of the interim government was made by Iraqis. The 25-member IGC--which is slated to be dissolved on June 30--agreed to limit the authority of the unelected government when it approved the country’s Transitional Administrative Law (TAL)--or interim constitution--on March 8.

Which laws will be in effect after June 30?

U.S. officials say that the laws jointly approved by the CPA and the IGC will remain in effect unless they are amended. As it stands now, the post-June 30 interim government will not have the authority to change laws, but the future elected government will. Among the laws that U.S. policymakers say will remain in force until elections in 2005 is the interim constitution. "It [the constitution] cannot be amended except by a transitional government, which would be in place with the election of a 275-person assembly in January," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said May 18. The draft U.N. resolution does not address this issue.

How much authority will Iraqis have over their military?

The resolution is ambiguous on this issue. It says that the multinational force and the Iraqi government will draw up "arrangements ... to establish a partnership between the multinational force and the sovereign interim government of Iraq and to ensure coordination between the two." Iraqi troops may be able to refuse commands from the American military with which they disagree. But U.S. officials have made clear that Iraqis will have no command authority over U.S. forces.

Can the interim Iraqi government ask U.S. forces to leave?

It can ask, but U.S. forces do not appear to have to comply, according to the draft resolution. Instead, it says that the transitional government of Iraq can ask the Security Council to "review" the mandate of the multinational force in Iraq at any time, but the Security Council must make the final decision--and both the United States and Britain have a veto. The resolution also states that the multinational force will have the "authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq including by preventing and deterring terrorism." It does not give an end date for foreign troops in Iraq, only saying that the U.N. Security Council will review the troops’ mandate in one year.

What is the rationale for refusing to grant the interim government broader authority?

U.S. officials say that because the interim government is unelected, it will lack sufficient legitimacy to make laws and enter into long-term agreements with foreign governments. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq, favors early elections and has insisted that the power of the unelected government be strictly limited. Some experts say U.S. officials’ main concern is about the degree of control they will have over the transition process. They "believe they are going to do it better themselves," Feinstein says. "The United States wants as little to change as possible. It wants the veneer of a transfer of authority without the reality of a transfer of authority."

Are arguments over the resolution expected at the United Nations?

France, Germany, and Russia have said that the new Iraqi government should be given wide powers over its own affairs and that the multinational force be given a timetable to leave. The draft resolution appears to fall short on these issues, so there may be some diplomatic wrangling. Some experts predict, however, that arguments will be muted and the U.S. text will prevail. "The U.N. is risk-averse after the breakdown [over the Iraq war] last March ... and I think they will paper over their differences," Feinstein says. On May 24, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer signaled that compromise on the resolution was likely. "I think here there really is broad agreement. A consensus is producible, possible, and desirable," he told the Associated Press. But whether the new resolution will encourage other nations to send additional troops remains unclear. In an interview with The New York Times May 19, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder signaled that he will oppose sending NATO and German troops to Iraq even after the new resolution wins U.N. approval.

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