US determined to protect key interests despite turning to UN to solve its problems in Iraq

Developing Just Leadership

Iqbal Siddiqui

Rabi' al-Thani 13, 1425 2004-06-01

Occupied Arab World

by Iqbal Siddiqui (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 4, Rabi' al-Thani, 1425)

With the US presidential elections due to be held in November, and painfully aware of the fact that the terrorist attack on Madrid in March was timed for maximum political impact in Spain's elections, the Bush regime is desperate for something they can present as progress in Iraq as soon as possible...

With the US presidential elections due to be held in November, and painfully aware of the fact that the terrorist attack on Madrid in March was timed for maximum political impact in Spain's elections, the Bush regime is desperate for something they can present as progress in Iraq as soon as possible. Unfortunately for them recent months seem to have consisted of one disaster after another, from the general rejection of their political plans last autumn, to the uprisings in Falluja and the south of the country earlier this year, and the public relations disaster created by the emergence of the photographs of torture by US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison. As one American commentator put it, about the only thing Bush can be grateful for is that the sheer weight of bad news in other quarters is distracting attention from the constant stream of US military coffins still flying in from Iraq daily.

Key points of the draft resolution presented to the UN Security Council by the US on May 24, 2004.

The Security Council determining that the situation in Iraq continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security:

Endorses the formation of a sovereign Interim government of Iraq that will take office by June 30 2004;

Welcomes the commitment of the occupying powers to end the occupation by 30 June 2004, at which time the coalition provisional authority will cease to exist and the interim government of Iraq will assume the responsibility and authority for governing a sovereign Iraq;

Endorses the proposed timetable for Iraq's political transition to democratic government including:

a) formation of a sovereign interim government of Iraq that will assume governing authority by June 30 2004;

b) convening of a national conference; and

c) holding of direct democratic elections by December 31 2004, if possible, and in no case later than January 31 2005, to a transitional national assembly which will, inter alia, have responsibility for drafting a permanent constitution for Iraq under which democratic elections to a national government will be held;

Calls on all Iraqis to implement these arrangements peaceably and in full, and on all states and relevant organisations to support such implementations;

Decides that in implementing its mandate to assist the Iraqi people, the special representative of the secretary general and the United Nations assistance mission for Iraq (UNAMI) shall in particular:

i) assist in the convening ... of a national conference to select a consultative council;

ii) advise and support the interim government of Iraq and the transitional national assembly as required on the process for holding elections;

iii) promote national dialogue and consensus-building on the drafting of a national constitution by the people of Iraq; ...

Reaffirms the authorisation for the multinational force under unified command established under resolution 1511;

Decides that the multinational force shall have authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq ...

Decides further that the mandate for the multinational force shall be reviewed 12 months from the date of this resolution or at the request of the transitional government;

Recognises that the multinational force will also assist in building the capability of the Iraqi security forces and institutions, through recruitment, training, equipping, mentoring and monitoring ...

Requests member states and international and regional security organisations to contribute assistance to the multinational forces, including military forces, to help meet the needs of the Iraqi people;

Notes that upon dissolution of the coalition provisional authority the funds in the development fund for Iraq shall be disbursed at the direction of the interim government of Iraq;

Decides that the development fund for Iraq shall be utilised in a transparent manner and through the Iraq budget, including to satisfy outstanding obligations against the fund, that the arrangement for the depositing of proceeds from export sales of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas and its products established in paragraph 20 of resolution 1483 shall continue to apply ... [and] the interim government of Iraq ... shall assume the rights, responsibilities and obligations relating to the oil-for-food programme ...

Faced with this potential political disaster, Bush confirmed a complete u-turn in his attitude to the UN, with the publication on May 24 of a draft UN security council resolution on the transfer of power in Iraq. Although this resolution will not be finalised, debated and passed (or not, as the case may be) until the nature of the interim government that will take power in Iraq on July 1 is known, it is clear that Bush hopes to gain international legitimacy for his political plans; this is less than two years after he dismissed the UN as a political irrelevance when he decided to invade Iraq despite the weight of international opinion, even from key Western states. For those willing to see it, there could be no greater admission of failure on Bush's part, although some right-wing commentators in America ludicrously described Bush's humiliating return to the UN as a chance for the international body to redeem itself for its earlier failure to support Bush.

The change in strategy was signalled late last year, when the US called Lakhdar Brahimi in to help it resolve its stand-off with Iraqi Shi'a leader Ayatullah Sistani over the US's plans for a supposed transfer of power to an Iraqi government. The US plan was to hand power to an appointed interim government on June 30; Ayatullah Sistani demanded that the interim government be elected. Shi'i members of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) were politically unable to endorse the plan without Sistani's approval, at least tacitly. With their plans threatening to fall apart at the first hurdle, the US turned to Lakhdar Brahimi as the UN Special Envoy to Iraq, to pursuade Ayatullah Sistani to withdraw his objections.

This Brahimi achieved by appointing a commission to examine the feasibility of holding elections in Iraq, which conveniently concluded that elections would not be possible. In return for permitting Shi'i members of the IGC to sign the US plan for a transfer of power, however, Sistani secured UN involvement "effectively Brahimi's involvement " in determining the shape of the interim government to take over the running of Iraq at the end of June. Although this was apparently a defeat for the US, it has in fact worked in Bush's favour. For the last six months, "that's up to Brahimi" has become the stock answer to all questions about what will happen on June 30, with Brahimi of course appearing to be acting independently of the US.

This is, however, an illusion, for Brahimi is in truth as much the US's man as Paul Bremer, his predecessor as the supposed author of Iraq's political future, until it became evident that his plans would never be acceptable to Iraqis. Brahimi is a key member of the international political elite that implements the US's policies worldwide: his career is a telling example of how this elite works. He was foreign minister of Algeria at the time of the military coup which prevented the Islamic movement from coming to power through elections in 1991, remaining in place under the military until 1993. He then became a UN diplomatic troubleshooter, first overseeing South Africa's first post-apartheid elections in 1994, when Nelson Mandela came to power. He then spent two years in Haiti, tidying up after the US military intervention there in 1994. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, he was the UN man-on-the-spot as the US manoeuvred the installation of Hamid Karzai as president.

Iraqis have generally little confidence in Brahimi, despite his UN credentials. He is remembered as a man who, as a member of the Arab League from 1984 to 1991, and later as Algerian foreign minister, did nothing about Saddam's well-known massacres of Kurds and Shi'is. Writing in the Wall Street Journal on May 11, Fouad Ajami pointed out that "Mr. Brahimi hails from the very same political class that has wrecked the Arab world... His technocracy is, in truth, but a cover for the restoration of the old edifice of power." Ajami appears to have missed the point that this is precisely what makes him a suitable man for the job for the US.

(It is, incidentally, perhaps a rarely- seen reflection of the close links between the pro-Western political establishments and elites across the Arab world, and between those of the Arab world and the West, that Brahimi�s daughter, Rym Brahimi, recently resigned as a Middle East correspondent for CNN after announcing her engagement to prince Ali of Jordan, half-brother to king Abdullah.)

As Crescent goes to press, it remains to be seen what form of interim government Brahimi will propose to take over the reins of power in Iraq "under firm US guidance, of course" at the end of June. Shortly after coming to the job, Brahimi set himself a deadline of May 30 to name the members of the transitional government, in order to give them a month to prepare to take over. Whether he meets this deadline remains to be seen; the composition of the interim government is still a matter of debate in Iraqi political circles.

The US's original plans were for a national assembly to be elected by caucuses representing various regions of the country. Clearly based on the model of the Loya Jirga that elected Hamid Karzai to power in Afghanistan in 2002, this was intended to produce a government for which the US could claim some degree of democratic legitimacy, and which could perhaps, like the Hamid Karzai regime, be turned from an interim arrangement to a permanent one. This plan was scuppered by Ayatullah Sistani's demand for genuine elections, which made it impossible for the US to claim democratic credentials for any indirectly-elected body. This is part of the reason why the US is now hoping to claim UN legitimacy " such as it is " for whatever interim arrangement Brahimi proposes. Time constraints now make it difficult for any caucus-type procedure to be held before the end of June.

Members of the existing IGC, whose president, Izzedin Salim, was assassinated by a bomb blast right outside the headquarters of the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority on May 18, have lobbied to be appointed as the interim government in its present form. This is unacceptable to most Iraqis, as the IGC is closely associated with the US occupation, and to the US, as some members of the IGC have proved difficult for the US to work with, and also because it would be difficult to present that as meaningful political progress. An alternative would be to transfer power to an expanded version of the IGC, under some other name. This would at least minimise the potential for opposition from the groups represented in the IGC, who remain significant despite being tarnished by their association with the occupation forces.

Brahimi himself is thought to favour the installation of a completely new regime consisting largely of technocrats, who, he hopes, will be more concerned with the practical task of rebuilding Iraq than with "playing politics", either among themselves or with the US. This appeals to the US, which hopes that institutional mechanisms will help it exercise power smoothly in Iraq despite the political changes. However, it is likely to be unpopular with Iraqi politicians and people alike, who would regard such a government as easily manipulable by the US.

The politicking of the next few weeks, inside Iraq and at the UN, is likely to prove crucial to the shape that the Iraqi state and politics take in the future. Unfortunately there is little evidence, Ayatullah Sistani having accepted UN involvement and Muqtada al-Sadr's uprising appearing to have fizzled somewhat, of any Iraqi Islamic movement having the potential to play a decisive role.

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