Politicians Taking Top Interim Roles in Iraq
U.N. Envoy Had Sought Technocrats
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 31, 2004; Page A12
BAGHDAD, May 30 -- Before U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi returned here a month ago on a mission to form a transitional administration that will take power on June 30, he called for Iraqi politicians to "stay out of the interim government," and sought independent technocrats who would act as caretakers until elections are held next year.
But the results of Brahimi's work thus far have been the opposite of what he wanted, according to U.N. and Iraqi officials. The leadership now taking shape will be heavy with politicians, prompting concern among diplomats and political analysts here that it could lack legitimacy in the eyes of many ordinary Iraqis. A government without broad support could falter in the tumultuous months after the handover, as an independent Iraq struggles to deal with a violent insurgency, religious and ethnic tensions, a stagnant economy and a host of other problems.
"The stakes are enormous," said a senior U.S. official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition he not be identified by name. "We have to get this one right."
On Friday, Brahimi endorsed Shiite politician Ayad Allawi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, to be prime minister. Then he spent the weekend considering several other politicians and council members for the presidency, two vice presidential jobs and 26 cabinet minister posts.
The choice of president has been particularly contentious. Brahimi and the U.S. administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, wanted Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister, to get the job. But a large majority of council members continued to back Ghazi Yawar, a U.S.-educated tribal sheik who holds the council's rotating presidency. Although a council session was scheduled for Monday to debate the issue, council officials said they had received indications from Brahimi and Bremer that they would drop their insistence on Pachachi.
The political maneuvering came as violence continued to smolder in southern Iraq. U.S. soldiers clashed with Shiite gunmen in Najaf for the second day in a row, shaking a tentative cease-fire with militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr. Fighting also erupted Sunday night in the neighboring city of Kufa. A CNN reporter embedded with the U.S. troops in Kufa said a "major firefight" occurred when soldiers tried to secure a police station. CNN quoted soldiers as saying it was the heaviest fighting in the area in the past six weeks.
A roadside bomb exploded beside a U.S. Army vehicle south of Baghdad on Sunday, killing one 1st Armored Division soldier and wounding two, the Reuters news agency reported.
In Baghdad, gunmen attacked a convoy of sport-utility vehicles carrying foreigners, killing at least two Iraqis, according to witnesses interviewed by news services. The foreign occupants, who were armed, commandeered a passing car and escaped, the witnesses said.
Brahimi, who was sent to Iraq at the behest of the White House, has been frustrated by both the council's intransigence and pressure from the U.S. occupation authority to accept its favored candidates, according to people involved in the process.
Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, became committed to the idea of a technocratic caretaker government after speaking to many Iraqis on a visit in April. Politicians, including members of the Governing Council, enjoy little public support. Most political leaders lived in exile until the fall of former president Saddam Hussein, fueling a perception that they are out of touch. Iraqis also remain inherently suspicious of parties because of the abuses of Hussein's once-powerful Baath Party, which dominated the political scene for more than three decades.
"The majority of Iraqis with whom we spoke told us that, under the circumstances, they favored the establishment of a new caretaker government comprised of honest and technically qualified persons," Brahimi told the U.N. Security Council last month.
But as soon as he arrived back in Iraq in early May, he ran into resistance from the council. "Any future government must enjoy wide popular support so it can run the nation's affairs at this crucial stage of its history," the council said in a May 8 statement. Such a government, the statement insisted, must have "political capability."
Several members bluntly demanded positions for themselves in the new administration.
U.N. officials initially said Brahimi would not be swayed by the council. "You don't need all the members to say 'Aye,' " a senior U.N. official said at the time. "If there are a few naysayers, you can still pull it off."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company