- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

BAGHDAD — Frustrated Iraqi leaders say they’re being cut out of negotiations over who will head the country after the June 30 transfer of power and warn that the process will lack legitimacy unless it is led by Iraqis.

U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is expected to make a decision regarding the makeup of a new government within a week — one month before it is scheduled to take over from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).

“The IGC is like a snowman that’s melting,” said Defense Minister Ali Allawi, who is not sure whether he will have a position in the post-turnover government and Cabinet.

Council member Mahmoud Othman said no names have been formally presented to IGC members as candidates for the interim government, which will rule until elections are held in January 2005.

“We have heard names, but no one has set down the names. Until now, Mr. Brahimi and the Americans have not agreed on the names,” Mr. Othman said. He said the main negotiations were taking place between the United States and the United Nations, with consultations with Iraqi leaders taking place on the side.

The Associated Press said yesterday that Mr. Brahimi is nearly settled on who will fill the Cabinet but remains undecided on the two most sought-after jobs — president and prime minister, according to officials familiar with the deliberations.

Some current Cabinet ministers and council members — including former Sunni diplomat Adnan Pachachi — are expected to stay on in some capacity, but others will be out of work July 1.

“There should have been trilateral negotiations, but there weren’t. The way it’s being done, I’m sure the Iraqis will not like it,” Mr. Othman said. “It all depends on the names chosen.

“In the end, Iraqis won’t follow orders, but if an Iraqi leader asks them, they will do it. Until now, the Americans don’t understand that.”

Mr. Allawi said despite the fanfare, he does not expect much to change June 30.

“Three elements of sovereignty will not change,” he said, citing control over the security apparatus, control of Iraq’s national budget and the level and scope of Iraq’s government.

“Right now, there is a parallel administration in the palace,” he said, referring to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Saddam Hussein’s former palace. “And this may be transposed to the U.S. Embassy. Advisers are welcome as advisers, but ongoing supervision reduces sovereignty.”

Each Iraqi minister is backed by a U.S.-appointed adviser, leading many Iraqis to suspect that the Cabinet has little say in the actual decision-making processes.

If Iraqis are not given a clear say in the formation of the new leadership, Mr. Allawi warned, “not just the street, but the elite will ask what are the intentions of the coalition, and where is it all heading.”

Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein, son of the former king of Iraq whose name has been mentioned as a part of the new government, said Mr. Brahimi has retreated from his earlier insistence that the government be made up purely of technocrats.

“That would work in a stable, quiet country,” he said, but at this stage, “Technocrats don’t have the political depth needed” to lead the nation.

Mr. al-Hussein said the worst that could happen politically would be to have a “government presenting itself as sovereign and independent when there is a great risk it is going to be neither.”

“The worst thing is to present it as sovereign and have nothing change. I fear that mistake is going to be made.”

The IGC was never widely accepted in Iraq because its members were appointed by the Americans and because many of them lived abroad during much of Saddam’s dictatorship.

Many IGC members are also angered over last week’s raid on the offices of council member Ahmed Chalabi, a former close ally of Pentagon officials who has fallen out of favor. Mr. Chalabi has been highly critical of U.S. policies in recent weeks.

“For somebody like that to talk against the U.S., it’s too much for the United States. They can’t tolerate it, they think he crossed the red line,” Mr. Othman said.

“But the way they did it, a raid that breaks things, was not appropriate. It was humiliating, [and] the timing was wrong, 10 days away from a new government” being announced.

As for Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi’ite cleric who has taken a violent stand against the coalition, Mr. Allawi said his ultimate objective was to play a part in Iraq’s future.

“He wants to translate his street creds, as it were, into political and religious status. He wants to be one of the kingmakers, or the king.”

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