The US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council wants to appoint its current leader, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, who has spoken out against the failure of the occupation, but the US occupation governor, Paul Bremer, is insisting that they choose instead Adnan al-Pachachi, an 81-year-old former diplomat, who has said he believes American troops need to stay in Iraq until the security situation improves.
It emerged yesterday that Mr Bremer warned the council during talks on Sunday not to put the decision to the vote, saying that if it elected Sheikh Yawar, he would veto the decision. Further talks scheduled for yesterday were postponed at America's request until today, meaning that the deadline to name the interim government by the end of May was missed.
As well as Mr Bremer, a special envoy for President Bush, Robert Blackwill, and the United Nations envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, are attending the talks.
The sight of the Americans trying to bully the Governing Council into accepting their choice is threatening to destroy the interim government's credibility in the eyes of Iraqis. The US is already facing widespread accusations that the handover is cosmetic, and designed so that President Bush can claim the occupation is over ahead of the American presidential election in November.
Weren't we told that the US is there to create a democracy, not acquire a veto over the Iraqi presidency? Just as with the choice of Iyad Allawi, the US is imposing its own candidate to defend its own interests. The really bizarre thing is that these blatant diktats will destroy any shred of legitimacy the transitional government might have had. That in turn will exacerbate the security deficit.
It's a silly short-term fix that will ultimately make the occupation even more difficult to maintain. It makes a lie of the five steps in Bush's address a week ago. Only the Bush administration could come up with an Iraq 'solution' that exacerbates the twin security and legitimacy deficits at the same time.