Global Policy Forum

Annan to Back US on Iraq Plan


By Colum Lynch and Robin Wright

Washington Post
February 18, 2004

UN Chief to Urge Delaying Elections, Senior Officials Say

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will endorse the U.S. position that direct elections cannot be held in Iraq before the United States hands over political power to Iraqis on June 30, senior U.N. officials said Wednesday. But Annan, scheduled to brief the Security Council and other U.N. members Thursday, will delay for at least another week his recommendations on the sensitive question of how to choose a provisional government, officials said.

Annan's decision is a major boost for the Bush administration, which has struggled to address the demand of Iraq's leading cleric that direct elections be used to select an interim government, rather than the complex system of regional caucuses that the United States had proposed. Washington has turned to the United Nations to adjudicate the issue.

The U.N. move paves the way for a new U.S.-U.N. collaboration on an alternative transition plan that will allow the United States to end its formal occupation by June 30. "We look forward to working with the United Nations to help the process along, to add some international legitimacy to what the Iraqis think is necessary to move the process toward a new constitution and elections of people," President Bush said in an interview Wednesday on the Middle East Television Network.

The Bush administration and Annan now have to tackle the difficult issue of how to choose an interim government. Among the ideas under consideration, a U.N. official said, is organizing a national conference of tribal, political and religious leaders that reflects Iraq's disparate population to select a provisional government -- similar to Afghanistan's loya jirga.

Another possibility is to expand the current 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, say U.S. and U.N. officials. Such a modified council would hold sovereignty until Iraq's first democratic elections. One U.N. official said the "least unacceptable" proposal that emerged from the talks held last week by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is to have an "enlarged, more representative governing council, which would be limited in its power and its duration."

Bush administration officials appear interested in this option. "The general buzz here is that we may end up handing over to an expanded governing council," said a State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The official said that Washington would still prefer a political transition that resembles the U.S.-backed plan for 18 regional caucuses but that "we recognize the constraints."

State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said there are "at least a dozen, maybe a score," of ideas for a political transition in play. "I'm not going to lean towards any particular one or start throwing darts at the list," he said. "I think it's important for us all to remember that we have very similar goals in Iraq. We all want Iraq to have a democracy."

The U.N. chief's decision comes after both Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and a majority of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council rejected the Nov. 15 plan to hold regional caucuses.

Annan plans to outline Brahimi's preliminary conclusions in a meeting Thursday with officials from more than a dozen countries that make up the "friends of Iraq" group and later at a luncheon with representatives of the 15 Security Council member nations. Besides crafting a detailed blueprint for the political handover, the Bush administration has yet to decide how much power to share with the world body in implementing the plan.

Intense discussions are expected to take place behind the scenes in New York over the next week to 10 days as U.N. officials draw up proposals and try to determine the role to be played by the Security Council.

Despite the Bush administration's increased reliance on the United Nations, senior administration officials are wary of involving the Security Council in Iraq policy. One State Department official voiced concern about the possibility that member nations might call for a Security Council resolution to formally approve a new plan for Iraq's transition, which could complicate and delay the process with just over four months remaining.

"There's ample opportunity to hijack this in the Security Council and take it down a road we don't want to see it go," said the official, speaking on the condition that he not be named.

"It may be that some want to use it . . . for their own gains in Iraq."

France and Germany, the council's two toughest critics of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, said today that the Security Council should adopt a new resolution. Germany's ambassador to the United Nations, Gunter Pleuger, said previous resolutions on postwar Iraq would not be sufficient to reflect the dramatic political changes in Iraq. "It would also be desirable to have a new resolution to draw [in] those countries who are really needed, not so much the Europeans but also Arab-speaking countries and Islamic countries," he said.

Annan, who is scheduled to fly to Japan on Friday, is not expected to provide a formal set of recommendations on Iraq's political future until after he returns to New York on Feb. 25, according to U.N. officials.

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