Sovereignty Lite

The shape of the transitional government in Iraq is finally starting to emerge. Fortunately, it is actually beginning to look like there is an actual plan rather than merely a set of platitudes.

NYT: U.N. Envoy Seeks New Iraq Council by Close of May [RSS]

In his first extensive public comments since outlining his plans for an interim government earlier this month, Mr. Brahimi also said the occupants of the government’s top posts should insulate themselves from partisan activity by agreeing not to be candidates in national elections next year.

Although he did not say so specifically, that seemed to rule out a role in the caretaker government for prominent Iraqis now in the American-picked Iraqi Governing Council, including the heads of political parties who are expected to contest the June 2005 elections.

Last week, in an interview with ABC News, Mr. Brahimi suggested that among those he would expect not to serve are Ahmed Chalabi, a former exile leader favored by some in the Pentagon to lead Iraq.

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Under that arrangement, the caretaker government would be led by a president, two vice presidents and a prime minister and would be advised by a consultative body to be chosen in a national conference this summer that Mr. Brahimi estimated Tuesday could number up to 1,500 people.

He did not specify how the caretaker government would be chosen, other than to emphasize that it should be Iraqis themselves who make the choice. In the past, he has said that the selections would be made by members of the Iraqi Governing Council, the Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraqi judges and himself.

“Though it will certainly not be easy, we do believe that it shall be possible to identify by the end of May a group of people respected and acceptable to Iraqis across the country, to form this caretaker government,” he said.

The interim administration he described would have limited authority, much as Bush administration officials have been suggesting in Congressional testimony in recent days. Its main purpose would be to provide a civil administration and to prepare the nation for the 2005 elections, which will mark the moment, Mr. Brahimi said, when Iraq will first have a fully representative and empowered government.

Oddly, the reportage on this is mixed. The AP somehow got exactly the opposite impression: U.N. envoy outlines transitional government

In a briefing to the U.N. Security Council, Lakhdar Brahimi expanded on his ideas for a transitional government to assume sovereignty from the coalition on June 30.

He spoke of a government that would assume full sovereignty — not limited powers, as some U.S. officials have suggested.

No. He didn’t. He’s simply trying to attach the word “sovereignty” to the nominal government in order to give it legitimacy.

More clarification on this post came from the Negroponte hearings.

USA Today: U.S. To Keep Military Control Of Iraq, Nominee Says

Even after it turns over political control to Iraqis on June 30, the United States will retain military control in Iraq, maintaining the right to send U.S. troops anywhere whether or not the new government approves, the Bush administration’s nominee to be ambassador to Iraq said Tuesday.

In his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Negroponte, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, delivered the administration’s most explicit overview yet of the limited powers of the interim government, particularly regarding the actions of U.S. soldiers.

While U.S. officials would consult with their Iraqi counterparts, U.S. forces will “have the freedom to act in their self-defense, and they’re going to be free to operate in Iraq as they best see fit,” Negroponte said. He said that in the case of controversial operations such as Tuesday’s firefight in the city of Fallujah, there would be “real dialogue” between Iraqi officials and U.S. commanders and diplomats, but U.S. commanders would have the final say.

Brahimi said that by putting a temporary prime minister and a cabinet in place a month before the hand-over would give the new Iraqi leadership enough time to reach “crystal-clear understandings” about the relative authority of the new Iraqi government and the “former occupying powers.”

Brahimi told the Security Council that the “sole purpose” of the interim government should be the day-to-day administration of Iraq and that it should be run by technocrats, rather than Iraqis who plan to stand for elections scheduled for next year.

Negroponte defended the U.S. plan for granting only limited powers to the new Iraqi government. He said Iraqis will have “a lot more sovereignty than they have right now.”

But his comments were the latest signs from the Bush administration that the powers of the interim government will be minimal, lacking such basic functions as the ability to write new laws or command its military forces. The reconstituted Iraqi military is expected to be overseen by leaders of a multinational force.

There’s no such thing as “limited sovereignty.” You’re either sovereign or you ain’t. A government that is merely “consulted” when a foreign power exercises military force within its terrritory in in the latter category.

Regardless, this is a step in the right direction. Putting an Iraqi face on the government while still keeping the important operations under Coalition control is logical at this stage of the game. Until we establish some semblance of security across the country and get a set of institutions in place that will accomdate the Shi’a majority while still ensuring a place for the Sunni and Kurdish minority, true Iraqi sovereignty would be 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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.