Global Policy Forum

Iraqi Governing Council Has Doubts About UN Role


By Luke Baker

March 14, 2004

U.S. plans for transferring power to Iraqis by June 30 are under pressure after Iraq's Governing Council raised doubts about the role the United Nations should play, a senior coalition source said Sunday.

U.N. officials were expected to return to Iraq within weeks to help plan for elections to be held next year and shape the government that will resume sovereignty from July 1. But several members of the Governing Council, a 25-person body appointed by the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, have expressed reservations about the role the U.N. should play in the process and about its special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Shi'ite members of the Council are said to object to the fact that they have to negotiate with Brahimi, a Sunni Muslim with a secular background who they feel cannot fully appreciate their desire for a greater religious role in politics.

"There are on-going discussions with the Iraqi Governing Council on the role of the U.N.," the source said, acknowledging that Brahimi was at the center of the debate. "Crucial discussions need to take place over the coming three and a half months. We need to get a request out of the Governing Council asking for the U.N. to return as soon as possible," the source said.

Members of the Council are thought to be upset about the report from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that emerged after Brahimi visited Iraq last month to assess the feasibility of holding early, direct elections.

That report said that while direct elections were highly desirable, it would be impossible to organize them by the June 30 sovereignty transfer date, as had been demanded. The report said it would take at least eight months of planning to organize elections and that the process should begin immediately.

The Council's Shi'ite members are both dissatisfied with the U.N.'s report and uncomfortable with Brahimi's secular background as a former Algerian foreign minister. "They recognize he's a man of international reputation, but he also happens to be a Sunni with an Arab nationalist, secular background, which isn't ideal for them," the source said.

The longer the delay in getting Brahimi back to Iraq, the tougher it will be to make the deadline for deciding what sort of government takes power on July 1. The U.S. administration in Iraq wants the U.N. to be central to those discussions.

U.S. authorities in Iraq also need to get Carina Perelli, a U.N. expert on electoral issues, back into the country as soon as possible. The longer her return is delayed the harder it will be to hold elections by January 2005, the deadline laid down in Iraq's recently signed interim constitution.

"The Governing Council recognizes that the U.N.'s endorsement of the sovereignty transfer process is essential, but they're delaying getting the U.N. back," the source said. The Governing Council's delays have prompted the White House to take action, fearing the power transfer may be threatened.

Saturday it sent a senior envoy, Robert Blackwill, the deputy national security adviser at the National Security Council, to Iraq to urge the Governing Council to involve the U.N. in elections planning and the power transfer.

Blackwill was last in Iraq when Brahimi came to assess the feasibility of elections. His appointment is seen as a mark of just how seriously the issue is being taken and how pressing the need to speed up decision-making on the ground in Iraq.

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