- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

With less than a 100 days to go before sovereigntyis handed over, the United States and the current Iraqi Governing Council (GC) need to build more legitimacy and public consensus to rally more support for the government that would be handed power on June 30.

In a conspiracy-ridden country, confusion and fear of the future are running high amongst the populations of Iraq. They feel that the United States and a handpicked group of individuals, the GC, are shaping the future of the country behind closed doors.

Every day, Iraqis wake up to read Western newspaper reports — quoted in local media — about changes in the plan for handing over sovereignty, fueling conspiracy theories and anti-U.S. activities, sponsored mainly by Iraq’s neighbors, saying that the handing over of power will only be a show, and “the great Satan” will stay and drain Iraq of its wealth and resources.

Initially, some reports said that the current GC will be handed power. Later, others said that an expanded GC will take charge. The most recent report is that the United States will appoint a strong Shia secular prime minister to run the country.

This report is already sending shockwaves through the people. The first person that comes to their mind is Ahmad Chalabi, who is now forging a new alliance with the mullahs in Iraq and in Iran. A recent opinion poll showed that Mr. Chalabi tops the list of politicians that Iraqis do not trust at all. Saddam Hussein came second.

No official or public meeting has been held so far to ask the various people of Iraq whether they want any of these options or whether they want the United States to leave at all.

The common belief on the street now is that the Islamist Shia members of the GC are very much under Iran’s influence and will dominate once power is transferred to Iraqis. This is particularly worrying for the secular Shias, the Kurds and the Sunnis.

This belief arose after reservations were expressed by the Shia Islamists and their secular allies in the GC over a clause in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), signed earlier this month, which gives governorates the power to veto a permanent constitution.

The people of Iraq fear that if the transition is not smooth and representative of the will of all Iraqis, the country will see chaos, more terrorist attacks and increased interference of neighboring countries who do not want to see a successful Iraq.

While the GC is supposed to be drafting an annex to TAL that shapes the government that will take control on June 30, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is arranging town hall meetings around the country to explain to the people what TAL is about.

But many Iraqis believe that rather than holding post-mortem meetings on a law that will come into effect after the transfer of sovereignty, they need to be consulted now about GC and CPA plans to shape a new government.

Save for a number of unknown members, the GC is the most representative body of the people of Iraq. But it was unfortunately born with the defect of lack of legitimacy.

Critics of the CPA and GC, who do not want to see success in Iraq, argue that neither they nor their actions are legitimate. They will almost certainly claim that the June 30 government is not legitimate, too. At present, it is difficult to argue to the contrary.

The formation of the GC was a result of a series of meetings between the CPA and Iraqis behind closed doors. Furthermore, and although representative of the will of the people, the drafting of TAL was also done in a similar manner. Nothing at present suggests that shaping the new government is being conducted differently.

In the absence of democratically elected representatives, a process of legitimacy building is needed to inform the people and consult them on what is being decided for them.

Wide-scale consultation sessions with the Iraqi public through town hall meetings will make it easy to identify what the various people of Iraq want and give them a sense of ownership in the process of selecting a government.

Only then will the majority of the people of Iraq be supportive of the outcome. Opposition voices like that of Ayatollah Sistani will not be as loud as they are now.

Hiwa Osman is a Baghdad-based journalist

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