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US eyes alternatives to Iraq council
( 2003-11-10 09:17) (WashPost)

Increasingly alarmed by the failure of Iraq's Governing Council to take decisive action, the Bush administration is developing possible alternatives to the council to ensure that the United States can turn over political power at the same time and pace that troops are withdrawn, according to senior U.S. officials here and in Baghdad.

The United States is deeply frustrated with its hand-picked council members because they have spent more time on their own political or economic interests than in planning for Iraq¡¯s political future, especially selecting a committee to write a new constitution, the officials added. ¡°We're unhappy with all of them. They¡¯re not acting as a legislative or governing body, and we need to get moving,¡± said a well-placed U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ¡°They just don¡¯t make decisions when they need to.¡±

Ambassador Robert Blackwill, the new National Security Council official overseeing Iraq's political transition, begins an unannounced trip this weekend to Iraq to meet with Iraqi politicians to drive home that point. He is also discussing U.S. options with L. Paul Bremer, civilian administrator of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, U.S. officials said.

The United States is even considering a French proposal, earlier rejected, to create an interim Iraqi leadership that would emulate the Afghanistan model, according to U.S. and French officials. During the debate before the new United Nations resolution on postwar Iraq was passed Oct. 17, France and other Security Council members had proposed holding a national conference ¡ª like the Afghan loya jirga ¡ª to select a provisional government that would have the rights of sovereignty.

Among several options, the administration is also considering changing the order of the transition if it looks as though it could drag on much longer than the United States had planned. The United States has long insisted that a new constitution was the essential first step and elections the final phase in handing over power.

But now U.S. officials are exploring the possibility, again backed by other Security Council members, of creating a provisional government with effective sovereignty to govern until a new constitution is written and elections held. This is again similar to Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai has governed while a new national charter is written. Elections are scheduled there next June, two years after the fall of the Taliban.

¡°If our exit is going to take longer, if it looks like it could go more than two years to get it all done, then there's an incentive to look into a transitional phase and some other governing mechanism,¡± a State Department official said.


The move comes after repeated warnings to the Iraqi body. Two weeks ago, Bremer met with the council and bluntly told members that they ¡°can't go on like this,¡± a senior U.S. official in Baghdad said. Bremer noted that at least half the council is out of the country at any given time and that at some meetings, only four or five members showed up.

Since the council appointed 25 cabinet ministers in late August, the body has done ¡°nothing of substance,¡± the U.S. official in Baghdad added. The council has been seriously remiss in oversight of its own ministers, holding public hearings, setting policy for cabinet departments and even communicating with cabinet members, he said.

The United States, which financially and politically backed several of the council members when they were in exile, has also been disillusioned by the council¡¯s inability to communicate with the Iraqi public or gain greater legitimacy. The senior official in Baghdad called the council ¡°inept¡± at outreach to its own people.

As a result, the council has less credibility today than it did when it was appointed, which has further undermined Iraq¡¯s stability, U.S. officials here and in Baghdad said.


The administration is not yet at the point of abandoning the council. ¡°Ambassador Bremer is working with the Governing Council. Our priority focus now in working with the council is to formulate a plan to meet the December 15 deadline outlined in U.N. Resolution 1511, which calls for the council to formulate a timetable and program for the drafting of a new constitution and for the holding of democratic elections under that constitution,¡± a White House official said yesterday.

U.S. officials are still hoping that they can ¡°stay the course, only faster,¡± the well-placed U.S. official said. If the council exercised its responsibilities, Bremer would even be prepared to hand over greater authority ¡°by the truckload,¡± the senior official in Baghdad added.

But with time rapidly slipping away, the administration is preparing options in the event that the Iraqi body does not come up with a constitutional convention or meet the Dec. 15 deadline. The CPA ¡°hasn¡¯t totally given up yet on the Governing Council. There¡¯s no sword yet over their heads,¡± an administration official said. ¡°But we¡¯re certainly looking for change next year and if they can¡¯t do it, then we have to be realistic.¡±

Ironically, Iraqi council members counter that they should be given the powers of a provisional government ¡ª with rights of sovereignty ¡ª because they have no real powers to act as long as the CPA occupies and rules Iraq.

In an interview, a council member also charged that the United States has an ¡°unrealistic idea¡± that difficult issues can be sorted out in a day or two. ¡°It¡¯s not possible,¡± the Iraqi added. A senior Iraqi National Congress official added that just because the principals are not at meetings does not mean they are not working.

Adel Abdel-Mehdi, a council member with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said the Iraqi mission should not be rushed. ¡°Figuring out how to write the constitution is the most important thing we will do. We have to make sure we take the time to do this right,¡± he said. Council members, he added, were busy talking to Iraqis about the issue informally.

Coming out of decades of either a dictatorship or a monarchy, Iraqis also need time to learn how to use and share power.

¡°The council is trying its best. You have to remember we are 24 personalities,¡± said Mowaffak Rubaie, a moderate Shiite Muslim physician who returned from exile in Britain. ¡°We have never worked together. There is no precedent for what we are doing.¡±

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