Global Policy Forum

Plan For Caucuses in Iraq is Dropped


By Robin Wright and Colum Lynch

Washington Post
February 20, 2004

US to Seek New Transition Process

The Bush administration is abandoning the core idea of its plan to hold regional caucuses for an Iraqi provisional government and will instead work with the United Nations and Iraqis to develop yet another plan for the transfer of political power by June 30, U.N. and U.S. officials said yesterday.

The decision, forced by rejection of the caucus system by a wide range of Iraqis, means that the Coalition Provisional Authority led by the U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, will instead hand over authority to a caretaker government until direct elections can be held, officials said.

In a meeting at the United Nations yesterday, Secretary General Kofi Annan told a gathering of diplomats with interests in Iraq that the Iraqis themselves should determine the participants and form of a caretaker government that will be credible to Iraq's disparate society, according to U.N. officials who attended.

Annan is prepared to dispatch his special envoy, former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi, back to Baghdad in the coming weeks to help mediate a new formula if the Iraqis and the U.S.-led coalition do not come up with another plan, U.N. diplomats and U.S. officials said. "We need to find a mechanism to create a caretaker government and . . . help prepare the elections later," Annan told reporters after briefing U.N. members who belong to the world body's 46-nation Friends of Iraq group.

As expected, Annan told the group the United Nations does not believe elections can be held before June 30, the date the U.S.-led coalition has said it will end the occupation. In a report to Annan, U.N. officials say, Brahimi cites broad agreement in Iraq that elections should be in late 2004 or early 2005.

The United States yesterday repeated its determination not to extend the June 30 deadline for ending the occupation. "There are 133 days before sovereignty returns to an Iraqi government," Bremer said at a Baghdad news conference. "Changes in the mechanism for forming an interim government are possible, but the date holds. And hold it should."

With just more than four months remaining, the United States is effectively back at square one on how to create a provisional government to assume sovereignty. Because Iraqis have rejected other ideas, the challenge for the United States, the United Nations and Iraqi leaders will be to find a formula -- quickly -- that will provide political stability and be regarded as legitimate by the majority of Iraqis.

The Bush administration has essentially given up on the idea of further refining its troubled Iraq transition plan, already twice redesigned. The Nov. 15 plan, which the 25-member Iraqi Government Council initially accepted, called for a complex process culminating in 18 regional caucuses to pick members of a new national assembly, which in turn would pick a government and leadership.

"At the time we did this [plan] in November, it looked like a caucus system for finding a transitional assembly and a transitional government might have worked, but it does not appear that that caucus system has the support needed for it to work," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in an interview with ABC Radio. U.S. and U.N. officials say they have no preference on how to select a caretaker government. "We have absolutely no preferred options," Annan told reporters. "We need to have the Iraqis discuss it. They must take ownership, discuss it amongst themselves, and we will try and work with them to find a consensus."

But Annan told a private luncheon for the 15-nation Security Council he is considering a range of ideas, senior diplomats who attended said. Among the new ideas was a suggestion that Iraq be administered by a government of "technocrats," rather than politicians, until direct national elections are held.

In other options, Annan outlined one proposal to expand the Governing Council and a second idea to appoint a national assembly -- possibly through a national conference -- like the loya jirga used in Afghanistan to select an interim government, U.N. diplomats said.

Expanding the council so that it is a cross section of Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious groups might be the easiest formula, U.S. officials say. But the Bush administration is not certain that transferring sovereignty to an expanded council would earn the approval of Iraq's top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, whose initial objection to caucuses scuttled the administration's transition plan.

Annan plans to travel to Japan today and is expected to present U.S. and Iraqi leaders with recommendations after he returns on Feb. 25. Annan said the Security Council would probably have to adopt a new resolution in the months ahead to support his plans for political transition.

One issue still to be sorted out is the interim constitution, popularly known as the basic law. It is due to be concluded by Feb. 28 but has snagged on issues of religion and federalism. It was supposed to include provisions for a new provisional government. To buy time for further negotiations, Annan said a new plan for the political transition did not have to be completed by Feb. 28.

In Baghdad, Bremer said the basic law must be based on secular, democratic principles and not draw on Islam as the sole source for legislation. "We have an obligation as the sovereign power that an appropriate democratic structure is put in place here while we are here so that we can deliver to the Iraqis what they want, which is a democratic, unified, stable country at peace with itself," Bremer said.

Violence continued Thursday as insurgents killed two American soldiers in a roadside bombing near Khaldiyah, 50 miles west of the capital, the U.S. command said.

Correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran in Baghdad contributed to this report.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on Toward Iraq's Government


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.