U.S. sets up Iraqi governing council

News Analysis

Reversing its previous refusal to cede any power to Iraqi groups, the U.S. – with its imperial occupation of Iraq going very badly – has now acceded to the formation of an Iraqi “governing council.” The council’s 25 members include representatives of important Shiite parties, the two major Kurdish parties, Sunni, Christian and Assyrian groups, the Iraqi Communist Party, former exiles of varying political colorations, and various individuals.

The council was appointed by the U.S. occupation chief, L. Paul Bremer, who can overrule its decisions and, presumably, remove any member if he so chooses. As a result, much skepticism has been reported within Iraq over the viability of the body.

At the insistence of Iraqi political groups, the council’s powers were set forth in written documents. According to those documents, the council is to have power to appoint and oversee the work of government ministers, with authority to fire them if they lose the council’s confidence, draft and approve a national budget, and name representatives to other countries. The documents also say the council “shall have the right to prepare policies on matters concerning Iraq’s national security,” including the rebuilding of the country’s armed forces and justice system. Further, the council is to have authority to determine the process for drafting of a new Iraqi constitution and for its approval by the Iraqi people.

But Bremer says the council will have no say in the rebuilding and restructuring of the country’s economy. He is moving full-steam ahead on the Bush administration program of grabbing control of Iraq’s vast publicly run oil industry and privatizing other potentially lucrative sections of the economy. And the White House and Pentagon are rushing to hand their corporate cronies fat contracts for rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations special representative in Iraq, mediated between Iraqi political groups and Bremer in the fighting and maneuvering that led to the announcement of the council. Apparently, he advised skeptical Iraqi leaders to seize the opportunity provided by the council and run with it. “I have urged them to take more power once they become a coherent body because Bremer will not be able to stop them,” he said.

It can be expected that this “governing council” will now become a key arena of struggle over the future of Iraq. On one side will be those representing the broad popular movements for a democratic, independent Iraq in which the economy and political structure serve the needs of the Iraqi people. On the other will be the Bush administration’s occupation command in Iraq, and those Iraqis who look to reap riches from a privatized economy beholden to the U.S.-based transnational corporations and empire-builders.

The U.S. is in a tight spot. It has veto power over the new council, but if it chooses to exercise that power, it runs the risk of adding more fuel to the already burning opposition to the U.S. occupation.

Some council members have already said they hope to use the council to put an early end to the hated occupation. “We hope that this council will work for a very short time,” the representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, a major Shiite party, said. “We should have a constitutional government and we should get rid of the occupation.”

In a July 13 statement, the Iraqi Communist Party described the “governing council” as a compromise between the general desire of Iraqis to establish “an Iraqi provisional patriotic coalition government” and the reality of the U.S.-British military occupation.

The significance of the council will depend mainly on how close it gets to achieving that “patriotic government,” the ICP said. The council will only acquire significance if it becomes an effective institution with clear and concrete powers and if it is representative of the principal forces in Iraqi society and of the parties that “made precious sacrifices in the struggle against dictatorship and for the democratic alternative,” the Iraqi Communists said.

In the context of the glaring failure of the U.S. occupation to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, the Iraqi Communist Party statement suggests that it sees a potential for the council to increasingly take command of Iraq. The “fundamental test” and success of the council, said the ICP, will lie in achieving speedy restoration of security and stability, rebuilding health and other public services, starting to reactivate production and repair the destruction caused by wars and economic sanctions, and “advancing towards restoring the country’s sovereignty and independence.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org