- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Arab nations granted the U.S.-approved Iraqi Governing Council desperately needed acceptance in the region and a first step toward international recognition by welcoming its representative to take Iraq’s seat at the League of Arab States meeting this week.

Encouraged by the decision in Cairo early yesterday, council members said they will forge ahead with plans for a constitution-writing conference this month leading to national elections next year.

Arab League delegates debated well past midnight on Monday before seating Iraq’s interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, in effect establishing the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) as the first authentic political voice of Iraq since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

“This demonstrates the growing acceptance of the Governing Council as representatives of the Iraqi people as Iraq moves forward to take over its own future and its own affairs,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.

The league’s decision will take some pressure off the United States, which has been criticized for its control of the Iraqi political process and for allowing only U.S.-vetted officials to participate in the IGC.

The league initially had refused to deal with the council, concerned that doing so would legitimize the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq.

Libya boycotted the meeting yesterday to protest the group’s change in position. Tripoli has accused the pan-Arab body of failing to deal effectively with Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But IGC member Raja Habib al-Khuzaai said she was pleased by the decision. “This encourages the government council,” she said in a telephone call from Baghdad.

“We’re now working on preparing the constitution conference, to be at the end of September,” followed by a census and a general election perhaps as early as April.

“We are optimistic,” she said.

The league’s welcome to the IGC is limited to a year, allowing the council time to prepare for a national vote and the formation of an elected government.

Iraqis and critics of the United States have been pushing Washington to hand over authority in Iraq to a homegrown government as soon as possible.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Iraqi National Congress spokesman Entifad Qanbar said of the Arab League’s decision in a telephone call from Baghdad. The INC is one of the political organizations represented on the IGC.

“The next step is to transition this Governing Council into a provisional Iraqi government and Iraqi state ruled by Iraqis. This is the only way to solve the problems of Iraq,” he said.

The Arab League’s decision may have been helped along by the U.S. administration’s recent willingness to return to the United Nations to internationalize the reconstruction effort in Iraq, said Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Currently under negotiation, the U.N. resolution presented by the United States foresees giving the Iraqis more political authority leading to self-government.

Details regarding the timetable and the extent of the U.N. role in the turnover are being negotiated, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said.

“We will find the right strategy for moving toward the political horizon that everybody wants, which is the development of sovereignty for the Iraqi people at the earliest possible date,” Miss Rice said.

But while some IGC members are pushing for swift action toward self-government, others caution against moving too quickly in a country wracked by security problems and a lack of basic services.

“To have premature elections could also be a disaster for the country,” warned Iraqi-American businessman Rubar Sandi, who has nearly $1 million invested in Iraq.

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