IRAQ: Who’s in charge?

February 16, 2005

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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Who’s in charge of Iraq now?

The U.S.-led occupation government has begun to gradually hand over power to the interim government named June 1, but it will remain the main authority in Iraq until the official transfer of sovereignty June 30. Many questions remain about how power will be exercised after that date. A United Nations Security Council resolution currently under consideration is expected to resolve some of these issues.

Who is in charge of security?

That is the most controversial issue between the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) and the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Some 138,000 U.S. soldiers and many of the nearly 15,000 other coalition soldiers from 33 countries will remain in Iraq after June 30 to provide security for the Iraqi government, which has few effective security forces of its own.

How and when will questions about the new government’s power and legitimacy be decided?

In the forthcoming Security Council resolution, expected by the end of next week. The latest draft of a resolution introduced by the United States and Britain would allow U.S. and coalition forces to remain in Iraq until the end of 2005 or early 2006, after the approval of a new constitution and the election of a permanent government. The new draft says the multinational force’s mandate "shall expire upon the completion of the political process, or earlier if requested by the elected transitional government of Iraq," the U.N. news agency reported June 2. Other Security Council members, including France, Russia, and China, are lobbying for wording that would explicitly define the relationship between the interim government and coalition forces, including whether Iraqis could block coalition military actions. Meanwhile, the new Iraqi president and foreign minister say they will push for "full sovereignty" immediately, though whether they expect that to include authority over coalition forces is unclear. Some of these issues will also be addressed in a Status of Forces agreement expected to be negotiated between U.S. officials and the IIG. The agreement will establish rules governing the presence of U.S. soldiers in a sovereign Iraq. It’s unclear whether other coalition countries will seek to negotiate their own such agreements.

What is the make-up of the interim government?

It is a mix of politicians--some of whom served on the Iraqi Governing Council (ICG)--exiles and non-exiles, technocrats, and regional administrators. Six are women. They were selected in an often contentious process that pitted CPA head L. Paul Bremer III and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi against IGC members. Experts say the desire to balance Iraq’s competing ethnic and religious constituencies in the new Cabinet led to frenzied negotiating and last-minute deals. Missing from the ranks of the IIG are some well-known political figures, notably Ahmed Chalabi, a prominent exile and leader of the Iraqi National Congress, and Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni and former Iraqi foreign minister. Pachachi was offered the presidency but turned it down, according to news reports. Chalabi has fallen out of favor with his U.S. supporters as evidence mounts that prewar intelligence he helped provide was inaccurate. He is also suspected of betraying U.S. intelligence secrets to Iran.

How will power be shared in the new government?

It will be divided among the presidency, the Council of Ministers led by the prime minister, and a 100-seat National Council, which will be selected by a national conference in July.

  • The presidency is a largely ceremonial post. However, the president and two deputy presidents must unanimously approve orders issued by the Council of Ministers before they can become law.
  • The prime minister and Council of Ministers (including five ministers of state and 26 other ministries) are responsible for day-to-day governance and may issue orders or decrees. The prime minister is expected to wield the most power in the government.
  • The National Council will represent citizens, advise the Council of Ministers, and approve the 2005 budget. It can veto orders or decrees of the Council of Ministers with a two-thirds majority.

What’s happened to the Iraqi Governing Council?

After announcing the new Cabinet officials June 1, the IGC dissolved itself. The IGC was originally intended to stay in power until the handover June 30. But, most experts agree, it suffered a crisis of legitimacy because many Iraqis considered it compromised by its close association with the occupation authorities and its ineffective response to the country’s political and security crises.

What happened to the idea of a government of technocrats?

Brahimi’s original plan had envisioned an interim government made up of nonpolitical technocrats who would steer the country until elections next year. The presence of IGC members in many of the top interim government posts has put that plan to rest, experts say. "The idea went down the boards very quickly," says Howar Ziad, U.N. representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government. "How could technocrats run government agencies in an Iraqi environment of insecurity? It was a fanciful idea. You can’t separate politics from governance."

What will happen between now and the handover of Iraqi sovereignty on June 30?

Over the next four weeks, most of the 26 ministries will come under Iraqi control. Still unclear, however, is how quickly CPA head Bremer will relinquish control. "Is Bremer going to slowly defer to the new government or is he going to try to steer things?" asks Joseph Siegle, the Douglas Dillon fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Once power is transferred, some experts worry that the new Cabinet ministers will be more interested in angling for power than governing responsibly. "The danger is that they will not move to ... elections [scheduled for January 2005] and may inadvertently provoke a revolution against themselves and their American backers," wrote Iraq expert Juan Cole in an online forum of The Washington Post June 1.

What is the post-June 30 sequence of events?

In July, the IIG will convene a national conference with some 1,000 to 1,500 members who are meant to be broadly representative of the country’s provinces, political parties, and interest groups, according to a plan devised by Brahimi. The conference will select the 100-member National Council to advise the new Cabinet ministers. "The plan is that this will give more legitimacy to the new government," Siegle says.

A key job of the IIG will be to prepare for national elections scheduled to occur by January 2005. Those elections will create a transitional government that will draft a permanent constitution to replace the Transitional Administrative Law passed by IGC members in March. Elections for a permanent government will occur by the end of 2005, according to a U.N. plan backed by the United States.

Will Iraqis consider the interim government legitimate?

It’s too early to say, but many experts are doubtful. Many say Iraqi public sentiment has turned against politicians from the IGC and, because the ICG played a prominent role filling interim government posts, Iraqis will be skeptical. "The interim government could be seen as a bogus government by the Iraqis because it was not elected and has no real legitimacy," says Ahmed S. Hashim, an expert on the Iraqi insurgency and professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College. "But if it is able to restore law and order and engage in reconstruction, they may be willing to give it the benefit of the doubt." Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert at the Congressional Research Service, says Iraqis are likely to interpret the appointments as the result of the United Nations being outmaneuvered by the United States and the IGC. "This is for the most part a rollover of the governing council, an effort by them to stay in office," he says. "The new leaders have clearly shown what they want for themselves ... [but] they really don’t have a message for what they want for Iraq."

What is the position of Ali al-Sistani ?

The powerful Shiite cleric gave his conditional approval to the new Cabinet, saying that although it lacked "electoral legitimacy," it was a step in the right direction. In a statement issued by his office June 3, Sistani said, "The hope is that this government will prove its worthiness and integrity and its firm readiness to perform the mammoth tasks it is burdened with," Reuters reported. Sistani named four key tasks for the new government: restoring security, providing basic services, winning approval of a U.N. resolution granting Iraq full sovereignty--"political, economic, military, and security"--and holding free and fair elections next year. He said the interim government would be judged on how well it could "erase the consequences of occupation." Experts say Sistani’s approval is essential if the IIG hopes to gain credibility among the country’s majority Shiites. His opposition scuttled a previous U.S. plan to create a transitional government through a complex series of caucuses.

What is the new government’s biggest challenge?

Experts say it is delivering measurable improvements to the Iraqi people. "I think the new government will gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people on one condition: if it delivers on security, infrastructure, and employment," says Amatzia Baram, a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and an expert on Iraqi tribes. "If [Cabinet members] manage to deliver, even on the latter two, it will make a major difference. If not, the whole thing will fall apart," he says.

How widely are Iraq’s ethnic groups represented in the new Cabinet?

International officials have stressed ethnic group representation was carefully balanced, but some experts say no group is likely to be completely satisfied. The Kurds--who make up some 20 percent of Iraq’s population--received several key posts, including a deputy president, foreign minister, and deputy prime minister. But Ziad says Kurds are disappointed that they didn’t get one of the top two jobs and he claimed that some Iraqi factions were trying to undermine the TAL, which they had earlier agreed to.

Sunni Arabs, the 20 percent of Iraqis who dominated the nation under Saddam Hussein, now hold the presidency and the defense ministry. The prime minister and the second deputy president are both Shiites, as are the majority of Iraqis. One group that appears to be underrepresented is religious Shiites. "Shiite Islamists could well feel like they have suffered," Katzman says, pointing out that they held five of the 25 seats on the IGC. They were awarded four of the 37 positions announced to date in the interim government.

Who holds the key posts in the IIG?

President: Sheik Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar

45, is a Sunni and an important sheik in the Shammar tribe, one of Iraq’s largest. He is the immediate past president of the IGC and won the support of the majority of its members for this post, after Pachachi reportedly turned down Brahimi’s offer. Born in Mosul, he studied engineering at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and spent 15 years in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Deputy president: Dr. Ibrahim Jaafari

57, served on the IGC. Born in Karbala, he is the chief spokesman for the Da’wa Party, a Shiite Islamist group that was founded in Iraq in the late 1950s and was later banned by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Jaafari fled Iraq in 1980 for Iran, then moved to London in 1989. He earned his medical degree from Mosul University.

Deputy president: Rowsch Shaways

57, is the current president of the Kurdistan National Assembly in northern Iraq. He earned a doctorate in engineering in Germany and returned to Iraq in 1975 to join the Kurdish rebellion against Saddam Hussein. A senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two main Kurdish political parties, he became the deputy prime minister of the joint Kurdistan regional government in 1992, after the withdrawal of Saddam Hussein’s forces from the Kurdish-held area protected by a U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone.

Prime minister: Dr. Iyad Allawi

59, is the co-founder of the London-based Iraqi National Accord (INA), an opposition group supported by the CIA that staged an unsuccessful coup d’etat against Saddam Hussein in 1996. A secular Shiite, he was a Baathist who served in the Iraqi intelligence services until falling out with the regime and leaving Iraq in 1971 to study medicine in London. On returning to Iraq, he became a member of the IGC and chair of its security committee. Born in Baghdad, he is a neurologist and a businessman.

Deputy prime minister for national security: Barham Salih

44, was most recently the regional administrator of Sulaimaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan. Born in northern Iraq, he joined the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the other main Iraqi Kurdish political party, in 1976, and was arrested twice by the Iraqi secret police. After fleeing Iraq in 1979, he became the PUK’s spokesman in London and, later, in Washington, D.C. He holds a doctorate in statistics and computer modeling from the University of Liverpool.

National security adviser: Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie

is the former Da’wa spokesman in London and served on the IGC. He is also a neurologist and human rights activist.

For a complete list of all the ministers, click here .

Does the new president have popular support?

Experts say Yawar is a traditional Arab Iraqi with support from both Shiites and Sunnis on the IGC, but his level of popular backing is unknown. While Yawar is a U.S. ally, he has criticized aspects of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Experts say that Yawar will likely be sensitive to tribal considerations but has less diplomatic experience than Pachachi, his rival for the presidency. Yawar prevailed with strong support from fellow members of the IGC.

Does the new prime minister have popular support?

Public opinion polls in Iraq show Allawi is not a popular choice, The Washington Post reported June 1. Experts say Allawi, who lived in exile for 30 years and received substantial financial support from the CIA for his opposition group, INA, will likely be viewed with suspicion by ordinary Iraqis. However, he is popular with military officials and ex-Baathists, who make up the bulk of his party.

Will any leader be able to gain popular support?

Some experts doubt it. "There is no natural leader in Iraq," says Hashim. "Everyone is a communal leader. There is no leader that can transcend their particular group--they are all out for themselves."

Will the new government be able to control the insurgency?

Experts disagree. Hashim doubts the appointment of a new government will weaken the insurgents. "The elected government could have an impact on the insurgency if it is seen as genuine," he says. "By the same token, a lot could happen that could result in everything spiraling out of control. Iraq could become a complex emergency, with militias, organized crime, terrorists, and other factions vying for authority." But Siegle says that if things go well, the new government could weaken the insurgency: "To the extent that the U.S. can reshape its involvement and image [as] not ... an occupier but as a facilitator and guarantor of security for the new Iraqi government, it could be important from a security standpoint." But, Baram warns, "The terrorists are not going to give [the new Cabinet] a honeymoon."

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