Current US plans to hand power to a 'selected' assembly won't wash
January 2, 2004
By Laith Kubba
Since the end of the war on May 1, Iraq has taken many strides towards normalcy and self-governance. Iraqis now enjoy freedom of expression and association, more representation at local level, better health services and higher incomes.
The country has also passed three crucial milestones. After months of wrangling, the US-run Coalition Provincial Authority committed itself to ending the occupation and handing Iraq's sovereignty to an interim national assembly by the end of June; second, international donors pledged over $30bn to help rebuild Iraq; and third, Saddam has been arrested and his two sons killed.
Yet, such progress is overshadowed by rising political violence and lack of security. Only an inclusive political process can get the Sunni tribes plugged into the future of Iraq and out of the growing insurgency. Meanwhile, Iraq must rebuildits institutions - in particular, its police, intelligence and army. This can only be achieved by a national government and a legitimate political process.
The CPA is in a vicious race to restore services and win the confidence of Iraqis before the insurgents succeed in undermining the new order. Last November, the CPA agreed to end the occupation by June 30 and authorised the US-appointed Iraqi governing council to work out details for the transition.
The CPA wants to constitute an interim national assembly by selecting delegates from Iraq's 18 provinces, and it has empowered the governing council to form committees to select members to local electoral caucuses. The November agreement calls for these members to elect delegates to the interim Iraqi national assembly. The assembly would be the recipient of Iraq's sovereign power before electing an interim government by June 30. Phase two of the transition will then begin: for 18 months the interim government will undertake all day-to-day responsibilities as well as forming a constitutional assembly and holding national elections by the end of 2005.
But the November agreement will only work if it engages the country's main communities - the Shias, Kurds and Sunnis - in a shared interest in a successful transition. Second, for the plan to succeed, it must not allow the governing council to predetermine the outcome. Council members, appointed by Paul Bremer as advisors, quickly became partners in post-Saddam Iraq with authority over Iraq's ministries, laws, intelligence and security. It is most unlikely that the governing council would vote itself out of power now. The agreement has empowered it to design the transition and veto delegates to provincial caucuses. But council members, who would lose out in a free election, are likely to manipulate the process in pursuit of their own political survival.
Popular acceptance of the handover of power hinges on perceptions of its independence from foreign control. So far, Iraqis perceive it as a plan with an outcome predetermined by the US. The gate keepers - council members - were appointed by the CPA. This objection has been articulated by the grand Ayatollah, Syed Ali Sistani, spiritual leader of the majority Shias. His call for direct elections has become a rallying point for the majority of Iraqis. The Ayatollah argues that only elected delegates have the right of sovereignty over Iraq and that the US should not intervene, directly or indirectly, in the political transition.
An alternative would be to seek direct elections of delegates to the interim national assembly under UN supervision. The Ayatollah has called for the UN to become the arbiter and propose alternatives. This is the right moment for the international community - and the UN in particular - to step in and lead the transition.
Elections by June 30 are rejected on three grounds: that there is insufficient time to register voters; that there are threats of violence; and that a rushed election would risk bringing in former regime leaders, militants and religious extremists. However, direct elections, even if rushed and imperfect, would offer Iraq a more legitimate and representative transitional assembly than that which would result from the November agreement. A combination of measures - including the use of inerasable ink and ration cards - could provide control over the voting process. In 1992, Iraq's three Kurdish provinces succeeded in organising elections in conditions much worse than those in Iraq today. Through elections, Iraqi would change the mindset of their leaders from seeking guns and foreign support to seeking constituent support at the ballot box.
Dr Laith Kubba is president of the Iraqi National Group and former spokesman of the Iraqi National Congress
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