28 April 2004

Iraq's Transition: On a Knife Edge

The history of post-Saddam Iraq is one of successive, short-lived attempts by the U.S. to mould a political reality to its liking. With each false start and failed plan, realistic options for a successful and stable political transition have become narrower and less attractive. Getting it right this time is urgent and vital. There may not be many, or any, opportunities left.

In undertaking his mission, Brahimi inherited several stark and in some ways conflicting political constraints: the U.S. commitment to 'transfer sovereignty' to an unspecified Iraqi body by 30 June 2004; the unrepresentative character of the existing Iraqi institution, the Interim Governing Council; the absence for the foreseeable future of a credible and reliable Iraqi security force and therefore the need for a continued U.S.-led force; strong objection by the most influential Shiite representative, Ayatollah Sistani, to endowing any non-elected government with genuine authority; and the practical impossibility of holding national, democratic elections before January 2005.

Added together, these factors lead to two clear conclusions: first, fundamental change is needed soon if the growing vacuum separating the occupation's governing institutions from the Iraqi people is to be narrowed; and secondly, whatever happens on 30 June will at best involve a delegation of something far less than full sovereign powers to a body falling far short of being representative.

Someone in the International Crisis Group has been channeling Galadriel. More later when I've read it.

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