IRAQ: The New Bush Plan

February 2, 2005

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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What is the Bush administration’s new plan for Iraq?

The U.S. occupation government agreed November 15 on an accelerated timetable to speed Iraqi self-rule. It reversed its plan to draft a constitution and hold democratic elections before transferring power to Iraqis, a process that would have taken one to two years. Instead, the coalition opted to hand over sovereignty to a non-elected transitional government by June 2004. An elected government is to follow by December 2005.

Why did the Bush administration accelerate the timetable?

Attacks on coalition forces have increased to some 30 or more per day. (This trend has been reversed in Baghdad--at least temporarily--by a stepped-up anti-insurgency campaign that began in early November, according to U.S. military officials). Iraqi support for the occupation is plummeting, according to press reports and a leaked CIA analysis. The 24-member Iraqi Governing Council, the main Iraqi body advising the coalition, could not agree on a method for writing a constitution and was increasingly disaffected by its lack of authority. The U.S. domestic timetable also appears to be playing a role: President Bush is eager to show improvement in Iraq by the November 2004 election, political analysts say.

What are the details of the new political process?

L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), and Jalal Talabani, the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, agreed November 15 on a five-stage process for the political transition. The stages of the "Agreement on Political Process" are:

  • The governing council, in close consultation with coalition authorities, will draft a "fundamental law" that will enshrine basic rights for all Iraqis and set out the transitional administration’s structure.
  • The governing council will sign a formal security agreement that grants coalition forces "wide latitude to provide for the safety and security of the Iraqi people."
  • Iraqis, supervised by the CPA, will select a Transitional National Assembly through a complex system of regional caucuses.
  • The transitional assembly will appoint a government, likely headed by an interim president. Sovereignty will be officially transferred from the coalition to the transitional government. The CPA will be dissolved.
  • The transitional government will hold a popular election for delegates to a constitutional convention. That convention will draft a constitution. Elections for officials and legislators will be held according to the terms of the new constitution.

What is the schedule for the new plan?

  • December 15, 2003: Timetable presented to the United Nations Security Council as dictated by Resolution 1511.
  • February 28, 2004: Fundamental law approved.
  • March 31, 2004: Bilateral security arrangement approved.
  • May 31, 2004: Transitional National Assembly elected.
  • June 30, 2004: Transitional government appointed; CPA dissolved.
  • March 15, 2005: Elections for a constitutional convention held.
  • December 31, 2005: Elections for a permanent Iraqi government held.

How firm is this timetable?

There are no sanctions in the agreement for missed deadlines. But the timetable will be formally enshrined in the fundamental law, announced to the United Nations, and assented to by the governing council, so there will be significant pressure to follow it. Some experts have expressed concern that the schedule is too tight, especially in 2005 when Iraqis must hold elections for a constitutional convention, ratify the constitution, and hold a general election--all within nine months. "It’s not a question of whether it [the timetable] is right or wrong. It’s not feasible," says Marina Ottaway, a democracy expert at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace.

How much influence will coalition officials have in writing the fundamental law?

The coalition and the governing council have to approve the law, meaning both will have veto power over its contents. Speaking on ABC’s "This Week" on November 16, Bremer said the "interim constitution"--the term he used for the fundamental law--will guarantee equality for all citizens, an independent judiciary, and a federal government. "They [these ideas] will be in the interim constitution because we’re going to be involved in drafting it," he said. On the other hand, "everybody wants the Iraqis to take the lead in drafting the document," said David Phillips, senior fellow and deputy director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

What will the fundamental law cover?

The exact contents of the document will be determined in negotiations. However, the November 15 agreement set forth a number of elements that will be a part of the law, including:

  • A bill of rights guaranteeing Iraqis freedom of speech and religion; equal rights for all regardless of gender, sect, or ethnicity; and due process in a court of law.
  • A federal structure for Iraq that specifies how power will be divided between the central government and local governorates or states.
  • Independence of the judiciary and a mechanism for judicial review.
  • Civilian control of the armed and security forces.
  • A timetable for drafting a constitution and holding general elections.
  • A statement that says the fundamental law cannot be changed.

Will the negotiations over this document be difficult?

Some constitutional and democracy experts say yes, largely because the fundamental law may deal with some of Iraq’s most controversial political issues, such as how to divide the country into federal states.

What do these experts suggest?

That the fundamental law avoid so-called final-status issues, which they say should be debated at length by Iraqis in a formal constitutional convention. "Our suggestion is that the interim constitution be a very basic document, simply a set of rules about how to get through the initial steps of the transition," says Ottaway, who recently wrote a policy paper on Iraqi governance with fellow Carnegie scholar Thomas Carothers. "It seems that they [coalition authorities] have embraced the idea of the two-stage process [an appointed interim government preceding an elected permanent government], but they are still trying to sneak the issues of a long-term constitution into the interim constitution." Noah Feldman, a New York University law professor who served as a constitutional adviser to the CPA, predicts that "there are going to be real disagreements" over aspects of the fundamental law. "This is an attempt by the CPA to have as much input as possible over the constitution-writing process," he says.

Are there precedents for establishing a fundamental law before a constitution?

Yes. After World War II, West Germany opted out of a permanent constitution to avoid the appearance of condoning the division of the country into eastern and western zones. Ottaway says that instead it passed a basic, or fundamental, law. After apartheid ended, South Africa adopted an interim constitution. In that case, the permanent constitution that followed very much resembled the interim constitution, Feldman says. The same may be true in Iraq’s case. "The fundamental law is going to be written very fast. There’ll be a lot of sloppiness, a lot of mistakes. Some of this will be fixed the second go-around, but history suggests that often it isn’t. Interim constitutions tend to look a lot like the final text," he says.

How will delegates of the Transitional National Assembly be selected?

There is an ongoing debate in Washington about whether the delegates should be chosen by direct election. The November 15 agreement, however, says that the delegates will be appointed through a system of provincial caucuses and that only qualified "notables" will be eligible for appointment. In this way, the coalition, the governing council, and local elites in Iraq--including tribal leaders, trade unionists, religious leaders, academics, and business leaders--will determine the delegates and weed out those opposed to the constitutional process.

What are the qualifications for members of the assembly?

They have not been officially determined. But Ibrahim Jafari, one governing council member, told the Christian Science Monitor that members of the national assembly will have to be 30 years old, have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent education, and be free of past Baath Party affiliation and/or participation in atrocities or criminal activity.

What is the first stage of the delegate selection process?

The CPA will supervise the creation of an "organizing committee" of Iraqis in each of Iraq’s 18 governorates, or provinces. Each committee will include:

  • five individuals appointed by the governing council;
  • five individuals appointed by a "provincial council" set up in each province consisting of representatives from local councils;
  • five individuals, one each appointed by the local councils of the five largest cities within the governorate. U.S. military officials have already set up local Iraqi councils to help govern most cities and towns in Iraq.

What is the second stage?

Each committee will set up a "Governorate Selection Caucus" of notables from around the governorate. These notables can be nominated by political parties, local councils, professional and civic organizations, university faculties, or religious and tribal groups. Each caucus member must be approved by 11 of 15 members of the organizing committee. The exact size of each caucus has not been determined.

What is the third stage?

Each Governorate Selection Caucus will elect representatives from among its own membership to a Transitional National Assembly in Baghdad. Each province will be represented based on its percentage of Iraq’s population, as determined by ration cards distributed by Saddam’s regime in the 1990s. While the size of the assembly has not been determined, some governing council members estimate there will be about 240 delegates, or one to represent each 100,000 Iraqis.

Will the assembly be an expansion of the governing council?

No, and the governing council will be dissolved once the assembly is seated. One reason the selection process is so complex, some experts say, is to distance it from the governing council, which some Iraqis say lacks legitimacy and is too close to the coalition. On the other hand, individual members of the governing council will be eligible to serve in the assembly. Some experts expect that most, if not all, of the current governing council members will serve in some capacity in the interim government.

What will the transitional assembly do?

It will elect an executive branch and appoint ministers, either from among its members or by nominating other Iraqis, says Charles Heatly, a CPA senior press adviser in Baghdad. There may be a president or a prime minister; top leadership posts haven’t yet been determined. As currently envisaged, the assembly will stay on as a legislature throughout the transitional administration period.

Then a permanent government will be elected?

Yes. According to the November 15 agreement, general elections for a new Iraqi government will be held by December 31, 2005, and the fundamental law will expire.

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