Power Transfer in Iraq Starts This Week

After eight months of debate and delay, the United States this week will formally launch the handover of power to Iraq with the final game plan still not fully in place.

The United States begins the complicated political, economic and security transfer with a general framework and a June 30 deadline for completion. But critical details are still being negotiated between the Iraqis and U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer, some of which could determine whether the new Iraqi government is ultimately embraced by the majority of Iraq’s 22 million people.

“We’re open to refinement, and we’re waiting to hear what people have suggested or will suggest,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in an interview. “What Ambassador Bremer and all of us have been doing in our conversations is listening and hearing and [saying], ‘Are there better ideas that would make the plan more refined, better and more acceptable to a broader group of individuals and leaders within Iraq?’ ” Besides figuring out who will rule in Saddam Hussein’s wake, Iraqis over the next two months will have to answer a host of deferred and potentially divisive questions: What kind of government will Iraq have? What will be the role of Islam? How much local rule will ethnic, tribal or religious groups have?

The deadline is Feb. 28 for agreement on these and other basic questions, due to be codified in the recently renamed Transitional Administration Law, the precursor to a constitution.

A month later, Iraqis have to determine their relationship with U.S. troops — and therefore the United States — after the handover. One of the thorniest issues will be giving U.S. troops immunity from prosecution for any action they may take, a standard U.S. demand when it deploys troops abroad. But Iraq presents a different set of issues than what American forces face in peaceful environments such as Germany, Italy and South Korea inasmuch as U.S. soldiers could still be fighting in a country not under U.S. control.

Iraqis, who like to note that they have less time than the U.S. founding fathers did to come up with a constitution and new government, are already worried — and predicting problems. “This is the decisive period — and we will probably go to the brink a few times before we make those decisions,” a prominent Iraqi politician said.

U.S. officials say Washington plans to resolve many of these remaining questions in negotiation with the Iraqi Governing Council, whose initial incompetence precipitated the delays that forced the United States to design the Nov. 15 agreement. The accord outlines the multiphase process, centered on provincial caucuses, to select a provisional government.

Seven weeks after the accord, however, the council has been unable to close the wide differences of opinion among rival Iraqi leaders, ranging from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to the Sunni community once protected by Hussein.

Interesting. I’m still skeptical about the end game here but agree with getting on with it. Waiting until all loose ends are tied up in advance is a recipe for disaster.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.