The grand plan for Iraq

The U.S. is preparing to install an interim government in Iraq. How much authority will the new Iraqi leaders really have?

How will the handover work?

On June 30, the Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by civil administrator L. Paul Bremer, will cease to exist. The Iraqi Governing Council, the interim group of leaders who had helped run the reconstituted Iraqi bureaucracy since last summer, has already disbanded. When day breaks on July 1, a new civil authority, consisting of a prime minister, a president, two vice presidents, and 26 Cabinet ministers, is to assume hands-on authority over the country. After a year of occupation, President Bush said, the time has come to “take the training wheels off.”

Who will run the new government?

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A diverse group of hand-picked politicians, former exiles, and technocrats. United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi weeded through a long list of “men and women known for their honesty, integrity, and competence,” and in its final act the Governing Council picked from among Brahimi’s top choices. Iyad Allawi, a member of the Shiite Muslim majority, was named prime minister. Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, a Sunni, will become president, a largely ceremonial post. He will have two vice presidents, one a Kurd and one a Shiite. The rest of the Cabinet will be divided among members of the country’s three main ethnic groups—Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

What powers will the interim leaders have?

President Bush has promised to give them “full sovereignty.” The interim leadership will be recognized internationally as the official government of Iraq. Iraqis will run the courts and other government institutions, and they will decide, subject to U.N. approval, how to spend the proceeds from oil sales. But the government will not have the power to pass laws, or to enter into long-term oil contracts or other international commitments beyond 2004. Most important, it will have little or no control over the true seat of power in Iraq.

Where will the real power reside?

In the so-called Green Zone, the barbed-wire-encircled, heavily guarded headquarters of the U.S. military in Baghdad. The U.S. will keep 138,000 or more soldiers in the country indefinitely, to provide security and train police recruits. U.S. commanders will retain control over the budding Iraqi security forces. Allawi says he will negotiate for more power, but the U.S. plans to listen to input from Iraqi officials without letting them control American troops. “We are creating a situation,” said Lee Feinstein of the Council on Foreign Relations, “in which the legal authority is in one place and the power is elsewhere.”

What role will U.S. civilians have?

A substantial one. The occupation authority will be replaced with the largest U.S. Embassy in the world, with 1,200 American staff members headquartered in the Green Zone. The embassy will also have satellite offices in numerous cities. About 200 Americans and other foreigners will continue working in Iraqi ministries. Up to now, the foreigners have had the ultimate authority to make decisions, but starting July 1, they are supposed to serve only as advisors to the Iraqi Cabinet ministers. Washington will continue to wield enormous influence, though, because it alone will have the power to decide how to direct and spend the $18.4 billion the U.S. has provided to rebuild Iraq.

Why create a new government?

To build confidence that Iraqis will soon control their own fate. “The administration is hoping that this interim government buys time for two elections,” Feinstein said, “one in the United States and one in Iraq.” During its six months of existence, the interim government will seek to take the focus off the U.S. occupation, even as American troops fight to suppress the insurgency. In November, Americans will decide whether to re-elect President Bush—a decision likely to be strongly affected by events in Iraq. Then, in January, Iraqis are supposed to go to the polls for the first truly democratic election in their history.

Will they be electing a permanent government?

No. Iraqis will pick a 275-member national assembly to serve as yet another transitional government. But because it will be directly elected by the Iraqi people, this assembly will have real authority to write and ratify a permanent constitution and enact new laws. Through the constitution, the assembly will write the blueprint for Iraq’s permanent government—what form it will take and how power will be divided among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Once that’s done, according to the U.S. plan, new elections will be held, perhaps by the end of 2005.

When will U.S. troops leave Iraq?

It’s way too early to fix a date. President Bush has said they’ll go home when they’re no longer needed, but no sooner. The Iraqis will not have the power to order U.S. forces to leave, although the leadership will be able to petition the U.N. Security Council at any time to “review” the status of the U.S.-led multinational force it authorized. But both the United States and Britain could use their Security Council vetoes to block any attempt to pull out the foreign troops. Administration officials have said U.S. forces will probably stay in Iraq until at least the end of 2005, but most experts think tens of thousands of troops may remain for many years after that. “Installing the software of a free and open society is a slow business,” said Paddy Ashdown, a Briton who served as the international community’s leading negotiator in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Peacekeeping needs to be measured not in months but decades.”

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