Thursday, May 13, 2004

BAGHDAD — Would-be leaders of a democratic Iraq are turning up the heat on United Nations’ envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, leveling furious criticism as the Algerian diplomat nears a decision on who should lead an interim government until elections in January.

Some of the harshest criticism has come from the political party of Ahmed Chalabi, whose newspaper has accused Mr. Brahimi of everything from “impudence” to leading a “white coup” in conspiracy with the Jordanian government.

Behind the criticism lies concern that Mr. Brahimi will create a weak government led by technocrats whose main function will be to organize elections scheduled to take place no later than January.

That would deprive the existing members of the Iraqi Governing Council of their advantage in the political battles to come.

“The dirty U.N. employees are double agents: They were spies for the Americans and also received bribes from the former regime,” said a columnist in Al-Mutamar, the daily newspaper of Mr. Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.

Although he might be the most strident, Mr. Chalabi is not the only influential Iraqi raising objections to Mr. Brahimi’s plan.

Others are pushing for a broader, more sovereign government — chosen by Iraqis from homegrown institutions, not handpicked by outside administrators — with stronger powers to pass laws.

“We need a transitional authority with legitimacy and without interference,” said Sheik Adnan al-Janabi, a World Bank consultant and former official of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries who has met with Mr. Brahimi several times.

“If we could develop, with the U.N., a transparent administration that has support among Iraqi people, they could be midwives for this administration.”

Published reports suggest that Mr. Brahimi is moving away from the plan he outlined after his last visit to Baghdad, and that political parties will have a larger role in the interim government than had been envisaged.

Mr. Brahimi has been reticent about his plans, but an aide told United Press International this week that reports that the new government would be made up of only technocrats were incorrect.

“What he did suggest was that the next government … should consist of men and women known for their honesty, integrity and competence in the first instance,” the spokesman said.

“They should have the professional capacity and competence to run the affairs of this country for the limited period of seven or eight months leading up to elections, when a fully representative government will be elected.”

The spokesman also said that questions about the abuse of prisoners had come up in virtually all of Mr. Brahimi’s meetings since the publication of graphic photos from the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

The Iraqi Governing Council has hinted that it wants to see some role for the political parties, many of which are led by the council’s members. But tribal leaders, such as Sheik al-Janabi, object.

“All of these are American creatures — they don’t represent Iraq,” said Sheik al-Janabi, who leads the Janabis, a tribe from the so-called Sunni Triangle with about a half-million members.

“In Iraq, you have several things — tribal, professional associations, women and ethnic groups. That’s our civil society, not bogus claims by some religious organizations created after the Americans came to Iraq.”

Some tribal and religious leaders want an interim legislature with power to counterbalance the executive branch.

“Under Brahimi’s plan, if it’s an executive system, who would control the interim government?” asked Sheik Fatih Kashif al-Ghitta, a top adviser to Governing Council member Salama al-Khafaji, the only member not appointed by coalition authorities. “Who would say to the interim government: ‘You’re wrong’?”

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