- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

BAGHDAD — Negotiations for an interim government are “racing to a conclusion” with political leaders pushing for maximum control of the administration scheduled to assume sovereignty on June 30, a senior Iraqi official said yesterday.

Monday’s assassination of Iraqi Governing Council President Izzadine Saleem has not slowed the pace of intense talks in Iraq, Washington and New York, Defense Minister Ali Allawi said.

Officials also said a Governing Council delegation has been ordered to New York to assume a role in negotiations on a new U.N. resolution endorsing the power transfer.

“Things are racing to a conclusion,” Mr. Allawi said. “Things are moving on several tracks toward the formation of a new government.”

The main subjects under discussion are national security, control over the budget and the scope of the government’s decision-making process, Mr. Allawi said.

He said he expected the parties to reach a decision before the end of May, but warned that the Iraqi people will not accept the post-June 30 government if they think it has been chosen by the United States.

“It would be very negative, not just on the street, but the elite will ask: What are the intentions of the coalition, and where is it all heading?” he said.

With less than six weeks before the transfer, Mr. Allawi said it still was not clear who will be in the new government and how much power it will hold.

There is also a lot of discussion on whether a consultative council to the new government should be appointed by the current leadership or elected from a national conference held after the new government is in place.

Council members said they expected the final blueprint to be laid out in a new U.N. resolution, but warned that Iraqis had to be part of the process if the new government was to have any credibility and succeed.

Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Bayati said the Governing Council delegation would negotiate in New York “on the basis that Iraq must be fully in charge of its resource wealth.” Iraqi oil sales are now monitored by an international board.

He said the delegates also would demand a cut in the 5 percent of oil revenues that are being paid in reparations, mainly to Kuwait, dating from the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Iraq still owes about $280 billion under terms of its surrender.

“It is unjust for Iraq to pay for the crimes of Saddam with its future,” Planning Minister Mehdi al-Hafedh, a candidate for prime minister in the interim government, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

U.S. and other diplomats were reluctant to commit to a formal role for the Iraqis in U.N. Security Council meetings, although they said they were willing to consult with the Iraqis. They noted that U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is already doing that in Iraq.

“We ourselves, of course, consult with them all the time in Baghdad,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington. “How that process will proceed in New York, I don’t know, but we’ve had very wide consultations on the resolution.”

It is rare for a country that is not a member of the Security Council to be invited to either formal or informal meetings of the 15-nation body, even if its future is being discussed.

In Baghdad, Governing Council member Mahmoud Othman expressed confidence in the ability of the Governing Council’s new leader, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, to lead the Iraqi side in the ongoing negotiations.

Mr. al-Yawer, who was thrust into the role of council president by Monday’s killing of Mr. Saleem, will remain in the post until the council ends June 30.

“He is a very good person,” Mr. Othman said. “He will finish the job and do a very good job of it.”

Mr. Brahimi has been in constant meetings with Iraqi political and civil leaders as well as the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, trying to fashion the new leadership.

“We want the U.N. Security Council resolution to insist that security be transferred to Iraqis as soon as possible,” Mr. Othman said, adding that it would also have to show “very clearly that the Iraqi budget and all these things should belong to the government totally.”

Iraqi officials say national security will remain in the hands of the Americans because local forces will not be ready to take over in July, but insist that this power must be transferred gradually.

They are also concerned about the role of private security firms, which have been hired to do tasks ranging from training private forces to guarding the nation’s oil pipeline network, and of militias loyal to religious and political leaders.

Mr. Allawi estimated that these militias total about 95,000 people, most of whom are to be absorbed into new national security forces. But private guard forces, he said, were questionable.

“It’s a problem having private security companies taking over public responsibilities in the public domain, and if you have a lot of these proliferating, then it becomes a problem,” he said.

Nicholas Kralev in Washington contributed to this article.

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