UN steps up role as Iraqis push for power

United Nations election experts recently returned from Iraq told the UN Security Council this week a transfer of political power to an Iraqi government must happen by June 30, the previously agreed-upon deadline.

“Iraqis wholeheartedly believe that the sooner an Iraqi government is in place, the better,” reported UN special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi, who led the Feb. 6-13 fact-finding mission. “Virtually every Iraqi with whom the mission met stressed that the date of 30 June 2004 is a deadline that must be respected.”

In an extended telephone interview from London, Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) spokesperson Salam Ali told the World that sticking to the June 30 deadline is “very important, politically and morally, for the Iraqi people.”

Ali said, “We have no illusions … the occupying power will continue to exert a lot of influence along with military presence,” but the June 30 handover of power will be “a step forward.”

The UN report noted “an emerging consensus” in Iraq that direct elections are not possible before June 30. However, it said, the U.S.-backed caucus procedure lacks sufficient support among Iraqis to be a viable option.

“A consensus will need to be forged on another mechanism” to transfer power by the end of June, the report said. Brahimi is expected to return to Iraq in March to help facilitate the process.

Democratic and progressive Iraqis view the growing role of the UN as a positive step, Ali said. The increased UN role will bring about “a new balance of forces” and encourage Iraqis to speak out, and these developments will “weaken the grip of the occupiers,” he said.

The June 30 deadline was part of a Nov. 15 agreement between the U.S. occupation’s Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Iraqi Governing Council on a process for handing over political power. That agreement, said Ali, was “effectively rammed through” by the U.S. From the start, Iraqi democratic forces had many reservations about the agreement, in particular about the caucus method, which would have marginalized organized political parties across the spectrum and given weight to individuals with no popular base, Ali said. He pointed out that many local councils set up by the CPA and local U.S. commanders were unrepresentative of the population and included backward anti-democratic elements, who now want to hold onto power.

The caucus idea has been “effectively shelved,” Ali said. Discussions are under way about how to set up a body that can take political power June 30 on an interim basis. The ICP supports the idea of expanding the current Iraqi Governing Council to include groups that were previously excluded by the U.S., such as Arab nationalist political groups – for example the pan-Arab socialist movement.

Some elements in the current Governing Council oppose a genuine expansion of the body, Ali said. These forces, he said, want to maintain their positions but don’t have a base and would lose clout in an expanded council.

There is a “hidden power struggle” between such individuals, put in place by the U.S. at national and local levels, and Iraq’s democratic and progressive forces. Currently, “the CPA is holding the keys,” Ali said. That’s why it is important that the just demand for direct elections does not hinder the transfer of power on June 30, he said. That transfer would “end arbitrary CPA rule” and enable Iraq to move forward to resolve its social and economic crises, he said.

Ali said he believes Iraqi political groups are moving toward an agreement on basic principles that will make possible the June 30 handover followed by a transition period in which complex issues can be further thrashed out. These include details of a federal structure for Iraq and the role of religion in government. “Eventually I think there will be a compromise” on these issues, he said.

A new coalition of Iraq’s major democratic forces is being formed. Known as the Democratic Bloc or Group of Six, it includes the ICP, the National Democratic Party and Iraqi Independent Democrats, headed by prominent Iraqi figures Nasir Chaderchi and Adnan Pachachi respectively, the two main Kurdish parties and the Arab socialist movement.

The will for independence is very strong among the Iraqi people and will determine what happens after June 30, Ali said. “To be seen as a puppet of the U.S. would be a death knell – such a regime could not survive.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.