U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Thursday the "terrible pressure" he faced in forming Iraq's interim government kept him from seating his preferred candidates for president and prime minister.
Brahimi, who was asked by the White House to sort out Iraq's political transition, wanted to appoint a politically independent Shiite Muslim nuclear scientist as prime minister and an elderly Sunni Muslim diplomat as president. But both men withdrew their names after encountering stiff opposition from members of the country's former Governing Council.
Speaking a day after he unveiled his final appointments, Brahimi offered a muted endorsement of the interim government, which is headed by a president who is a tribal sheik and a prime minister who is an opposition politician long backed by the CIA. "I believe this government is the best that we can reach right now," Brahimi said at a news conference.
Brahimi hinted that the pressure came from the two other major parties in the selection of the new government: the Governing Council and the U.S. occupation authority. "The whole slate is a compromise between the main actors, the Governing Council, a lot of Iraqis and the Americans," he said.
He suggested that the occupation authority, particularly U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer, wielded significant influence over the process. "I sometimes say -- I'm sure he doesn't mind me saying that -- that Bremer is the dictator of Iraq," Brahimi said. "He has the money. He has the signature. Nothing happens without his agreement in this country."
U.S. officials in Baghdad have denied that the occupation authority exerted pressure or sought to promote certain candidates over others. But Iraqis involved in the process said that Bremer and White House envoy Robert D. Blackwill backed Ayad Allawi for prime minister over other candidates because Allawi was regarded as more sympathetic to the Bush administration's desire to maintain full U.S. control over troops in Iraq.
But in one notable instance, reported American pressure did not achieve the intended outcome. Brahimi and U.S. officials wanted to appoint Adnan Pachachi to the presidency, but Ghazi Yawar, a member of the Governing Council, also sought the post. Although Brahimi reasoned that Pachachi had more national appeal -- and the U.S. officials deemed him more supportive of American policies -- Yawar had the backing of most council members, raising the danger of a confrontation.
Yawar was quoted by an Arab newspaper on Wednesday as saying that he was urged by foreigners to abandon his candidacy. "There was pressure and offers of other positions in return for my stepping down as presidential nominee, and I did not accept any of them," Yawar, 45, a civil engineer and tribal leader, told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. "It was very clear that I was not preferred by the coalition authorities."
At his news conference, Brahimi called Pachachi "the suitable person for this post."
In a subsequent interview, he compared the new government to a glass of water "that one may choose to look at as half full or half empty."
On the positive side, almost all of the 32 cabinet ministers were his choices, according to U.N. officials; only two people on his list were changed by Allawi. The cabinet is dominated by political independents and secular figures, as Brahimi wanted. Former exiles, whose role Brahimi wanted to limit, do not hold a majority of the new cabinet posts as they did on the Governing Council.
But among U.N. officials, diplomats and political analysts in Baghdad, there are concerns about Allawi and Yawar. Because of his political party's association with the CIA and his former membership in the Baath Party, Allawi is regarded by some Iraqis as too close to the United States and by others as too sympathetic to people who served in Saddam Hussein's government. "Either way," one official involved in the process said, "it raises questions about his popular support."
Yawar has little government experience beyond a 10-month term on the Governing Council. Before that, he had been a businessman in Saudi Arabia. "Ghazi is a nice man, but does he have the experience for the job?" the official said.
Brahimi warned that the creation of the government by fiat instead of through elections placed an "extremely heavy burden" on the participants. "This government will, therefore, have its work cut out for it," he said. "It will not be easy for them to prove the skeptics wrong."
Brahimi appealed to Iraqis to "give this government a chance."
"There is a lot of talent in the cabinet," he said. He justified his decision to include politicians in the cabinet, despite his earlier intention to limit the administration to technocrats, saying that "the best way to build support is to have a government which is as inclusive as possible, and inclusion means also political actors."
He also criticized the U.S. strategy of relying on force to combat the insurgency, suggesting that a political dialogue needs to be broached with some opponents of the occupation. "I think it's a little bit too easy to call everybody a terrorist," he said. "I think if you find out that there are people who are not terrorists, who are respectable, genuine Iraqi patriots, you must find a way of talking to them."
Allawi's cabinet held its first meeting, assembling for nearly three hours to discuss security issues in the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the occupation authority has its headquarters. The cabinet sat around a large oval table in a building that had been used by the Governing Council.
Allawi called security "our number one priority."
"Yesterday and today, there have been terrorist attacks, and as Iraqis we want to work with the multinational force and with friends and our brothers in the region to defeat these continued threats to Iraq and the Iraqi people," he said. "We are sure we will prevail ultimately and we will win."
Asked whether he supported the Bush administration's desire to retain full control over multinational forces in Iraq after June 30, Allawi declined to provide a specific answer but noted that the troops should be "under the control of the United Nations," which could select a U.S. commander.
His finance minister, Adel Abdel-Mehdi, was more specific. "Iraqis insist on handling security by themselves," he said. The new government, he said, would seek to have the responsibility for national security "placed correctly between the Iraqi side and the multinational forces."