- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

BAGHDAD — Just three weeks after its formation, Iraq’s interim Governing Council has made some progress in establishing international legitimacy and says it has just begun to tackle the country’s complex domestic problems.

“I don’t fear the responsibility. I don’t feel depressed or hopeless,” said Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq’s first postwar president, in a weekend interview with the Associated Press. “But of course I know the path is difficult.”

The quest for international recognition was in fact the highest priority of the council, whose members were hand-picked by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer. Just one day after being sworn in on July 13, the council dispatched a three-member delegation to the U.N. Security Council.

Encouraged by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Security Council gave a warm reception to the Iraqi delegates when they arrived in New York on July 22, but heard the three representatives only as “subject experts” rather than as claimants to Iraq’s U.N. seat.

Governing Council delegations have also been instructed to visit several European countries, with special emphasis on those Middle Eastern countries deemed supportive of Saddam Hussein.

The council has been slower to take on domestic problems, apart from a symbolic act on its first day in office to abolish those holidays named by Saddam’s regime and declare April 9, the date of his overthrow, a national holiday.

Much of the council’s early deliberations were taken up in deciding which of its 25 members would serve as president. The decision was finally made last week to rotate the office among nine of the members, suggesting deep-seated differences within the ethnically, religiously and politically diverse group.

The post has gone first to Mr. al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite medical doctor whose wife and five children remain in London, simply because his name comes first in alphabetical order.

In the days since that decision was made, the council has been getting down to nuts and bolts issues like discussing how to set up a body to draft a new constitution and going through lists of candidates for a new Cabinet, Mr. al-Jaafari said in his interview.

The council still has hard work ahead to establish legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis, many of whom see its members — most of whom have returned from exile since the war — as puppets of the U.S.-led coalition.

“I don’t like this council for a number of reasons,” said Hatem Abdel Fattah, 25, a student at Baghdad University. “The first reason is that they have no actual power in dealing with issues that are important to us.

“How can they decide, for example, whether to pay salaries, or back salaries, or how much to pay, or where we can work since our ministries are bombed? We know these are serious issues, and that’s why we don’t take this council seriously because they cannot solve serious problems,” he said.

Mr. al-Jaafari insisted in his interview with the AP that the Iraqi people support him.

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