Political Battle in Washington


By Patrick Jarreau

Le Monde
April 29, 2004

The Pentagon and the State Department's fight over management of the process after June 30.

The transfer of sovereignty in Iraq and the government that will formally be invested with it are provoking a political battle in Washington. In fact, the June 30 transition in Baghdad will be a double one: from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to an Iraqi government and... from the Pentagon to the State Department. On this date, the CPA, which depends on the Defense Department, will effectively disappear, and the American presence will take the form of an embassy. The Administrator Paul Bremer, who reports to Donald Rumsfeld, will give way to Ambassador John Negroponte, chosen by Colin Powell.

The question of American authority in Iraq has put the military and the diplomats at odds since well before the outset of the war. In January 2003, George Bush chose in favor of the Pentagon in a rivalry which has not all the same ended and which opposes not only two branches of the Executive, but also two different policies. The confrontation resumed when Mr. Bush confirmed the principle of sovereignty transfer on June 30.

Government of Technicians

The first problem: to whom should power be handed over? Mr. Bremer proposed enlarging the Interim Government Council that he named in July 2003. The new members would be appointed by the Administrator. This formula was abandoned when the American president understood that he needed Security Council approval and an instrument of government that would be perceived to be as independent as possible of the United States. Mr. Bush has left it up to Lakhdar Brahimi, special envoy to UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, who has recommended the formation of a government of technicians.

The second problem: what powers should be transferred? At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday April 27 for his confirmation as future ambassador to Baghdad, Mr. Negroponte indicated that the future Iraqi government will have "much more sovereignty" than the present one, but that the transfer "will be progressive." In an interview with Reuters, Mr. Powell emphasized that he had not used "the words 'limited sovereignty'", but that the Iraqis will have to delegate "a part of this sovereignty" to coalition forces under American command. White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, clarified that the powers of the interim government will be defined in an annex to the Transition Administrative Law.

Third Problem: the rules of engagement for American troops. Before the Senators, Mr. Negroponte declared that these forces "would have the freedom to act in self-defense" and "will be free to operate in Iraq in the manner they judge to be most appropriate." After testifying at a closed session of the Senate's Defense Committee Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld gave an example of how he conceives of this freedom of action when he was asked on departure about the battles in Falluja: "Our forces were attacked and they respond by killing the people who attacked them," he declared. "It will be necessary to talk about it. That's diplomacy," Mr. Negroponte responded when a Senator asked him what would happen if the American General Staff and the Iraqi government disagreed over what should be done in a situation like the one obtaining in Falluja.

Management of the Contracts

The future ambassador to Baghdad will therefore have a role as intercessor between the Iraqi government and American military leaders, over whom he has no authority. At the head of an embassy that will count a thousand American officials, plus 700 Iraqi contract workers- lower numbers than those envisaged 6 weeks ago-, will he also manage the reconstruction contracts financed by the United States? That's not certain. Some sources assert that the Defense Department will continue to control attribution of these monies through the Army Corps of Engineers.

The disagreement between the State Department and the Pentagon carries over even to the choice of Iraqi officials. When Mr. Brahimi expressed his preference that Ahmed Chalabi, President of the Iraqi National Congress, not be part of the interim government, the Defense Secretary's intimates came to his rescue and denounced the UN Representative's diktat, while Mr. Powell's partisans remained silent.

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