17 February 2004

Iraqi Panel Pivots on U.S. Plan

Even so, Sistani's demand -- and the resulting lack of Shiite political support -- stalled implementation of the caucus plan and led the Bush administration to invite a team of U.N. experts, led by former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi, to determine whether early elections would be feasible. Brahimi and his team left Iraq over the weekend after spending a week meeting with political, religious and social leaders.

Brahimi indicated last week that he believed nationwide, direct elections could be held late this year, according to people who met with him. Although Shiite leaders would prefer elections to be held sooner and rival Sunni leaders want them to be held later, both sides appear to be willing to embrace the idea of elections at the end of the year, several Sunni and Shiite leaders said.

With expectations running high that Brahimi will support the idea of elections later this year or early next year, Sunni members have been backing away from the caucuses. Talabani, the Kurdish leader who hosted the Nov. 15 meeting in his palatial riverfront villa and had been a staunch supporter of the caucus proposal, said on Sunday that 'elections are the best way to express the opinions of the Iraqi people.'

Ahmed Chalabi, a moderate Shiite who has been an ally of many in the Bush administration, also has rejected the caucus plan, calling for elections before June. If that does not occur, an official of Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress said, the organization would also support a handover of sovereignty to the Governing Council.

If Chalabi won't support the caucus plan then it's a dead duck. This is what happens when you put together cleverdick plans to spin a process of effective appointment by the CPA into national elections. The Bush administration ends up arguing an impossible position that everyone knows is driven only by the US electoral cycle.

The least discussed element of the November package is the security agreement between the US and Iraq. In keeping with the retrocolonialism that passes for deep thought in the Bush administration Iraq is required to sign an agreement with the US which will legitimise a continuing US military presence.

2. Agreements with Coalition on Security

  • To be agreed between the CPA and the GC.

  • Security agreements to cover status of Coalition forces in Iraq, giving wide latitude to provide for the safety and security of the Iraqi people.

  • Approval of bilateral agreements complete by the end of March 2004.

Does the Bush administration imagine that after winning the point on the caucus plan the Shi'a leadership is then going to ignore the matter of the security agreements or consent to a Guant�namo on the Tigris?

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