TOPICS : UN fleshes out plans for Iraq’s transition

Howard LaFranchi

United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi returns to Iraq this week to forge a caretaker government for the June 30 turnover of authority and to cultivate an idea for national unity: calling a broad national conference. Such a conference — whose point would be to rally support for the new government among Iraq’s provincial leaders and to raise its national legitimacy — helped in Afghanistan, where Brahimi was instrumental in formulating an interim government. In Iraq, it could encourage sometimes mutually suspicious populations to emphasise common goals like stability in the months before elections. A show of unity from the country’s geographical divisions and representatives of religious and ethnic groups could deflate the insurgents seeking to disrupt the political transition — and thus help quell the violence now racking the country, Brahimi says. But a national conference also holds potential pitfalls, for Iraq and the US, experts say, if it ends up highlighting the country’s disunity or resistance to American plans for a limited sovereignty for the new government on July 1.

Brahimi is aiming for a caretaker government — headed by a prime minister, plus largely ceremonial positions of president and two vice presidents — to be named by the end of May. The Algerian diplomat, who is working with “the full support of the US” according to State Department sources, wants those leaders to be technocrats who would not seek office in the January elections.

In a briefing to the UN Security Council last week on his plans for Iraq’s transitional government, Brahimi said the new government should have a month before the June 30 turnover of authority to define its duties and those that are to remain in the hands of American officials - primarily in the security arena. Brahimi envisions a caretaker government limited to administrative and election-preparation duties, a plan broadly endorsed by the US. Under the plan, a conference with up to 1,500 delegates could take place as early as July. One idea is that the conference might be given a role in selecting the president and vice presidents as a way of reassuring key populations about power-sharing. The conference could also form the basis for a consultative assembly to work with the caretaker government. But the conference might also end up a venue for raising Iraqis’ concerns, some experts warn: about continuing military command in American hands, for example, and about plans to deny the caretaker government any lawmaking powers.

The US simply retaining full military authority is not a solution for Iraqis anticipating a move toward reclaiming sovereignty, says Laith Kubba, an Iraqi and senior program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. Something like a joint security council, made up of coalition and Iraqi officers, must be devised to give Iraqi authorities some say in security matters, Kubba says. A conference could add legitimacy to such an arrangement.

His recommendations: It should be based on provincial leaders and geographical divisions, not religious and ethnic breakdowns. It should also close the door to the political parties and other power groups that have already grabbed privilege and financial advantage. — The Christian Science Monitor