Thursday, June 24, 2004

Building a Democracy?
The Christian Science Monitor has a great piece today on how the new Iraqi government is being formed.
Old Iraqi council clings to key roles
In a little-noticed edict, the defunct council guaranteed itself seats on Iraq's Interim National Council, a 100-member assembly that will have power to approve the 2005 budget, veto executive orders with a two-thirds majority, and appoint replacements to the presidency. The former council also guaranteed itself seats on a headspinning array of committees that will select other members of the new body.

As political players jockey for positions in the upcoming council, the selection process is being dominated by members of the Governing Council - including Ahmed Chalabi, whose office was raided last month by US and Iraqi security forces investigating charges of kidnapping, corruption, and robbery. The role of former council members is raising concerns among many Iraqis that their involvement may taint the legitimacy of the new government. It is especially troubling to those who had hoped for a more homegrown leadership to emerge.

"There are very important and gifted and honest Iraqi personalities who up until now have been distanced from the new government," said Jawadat al-Obeidi, secretary-general of the Iraqi Democratic Congress, an umbrella group of 216 Iraqi political parties. He reels off a list of names of academics, doctors, and other prominent Iraqis who have been excluded from the process. "These people are trying to go to the Governing Council members, but no one answers or returns their calls..."

"Essentially, the Iraqi Governing Council seems to have granted itself life after death," said Nathan Brown, a political science professor at The George Washington University in Washington.

Chalabi, who fought bitterly with Mr. Brahimi, tried to veto several of his choices for the Supreme Commission. "When we looked at Brahimi's list, we saw people on it who weren't respected in Iraq - some of them live abroad, and some were people who had strong relations with former regime," said Salama al-Khafaji, a Shiite professor also on the committee. "So Chalabi and I protested; Chalabi said he has files on some of the people on the list."

With the former Governing Council calling the shots, many fear that the national conference will merely rubber-stamp its decisions. "I wish it was a different group of people who are selecting this government, rather than people who lived abroad in New York, London, and Washington, drinking whiskey and going out to nightclubs," said Hameed Hassan al-Obaidi, who is sheikh of a 750,000-member Shiite tribe.

Mr. Obaidi's comments reflect the deep dissatisfaction many Iraqis feel with the presence of exiles on the former council and in the new government. (Iraq's new prime minister, former council member Iyad Allawi, is a former exile with CIA ties.)..

Even insiders are dissatisfied with the way the new government is being planned. Dr. Khafaji blasted what she calls the exclusion of anyone from the Sadrist camp - a political movement that includes not just followers of the militant young cleric, but those who adhere to the tradition of his more moderate father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr, a dissident Shiite cleric assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999.

Wednesday, the chairman of the Supreme Commission said Sadr's followers had been invited to join. But a Sadr spokesman said the cleric declined the offer of one seat as only a token measure.

"In the Supreme Commission, there is an important Iraqi social movement that is not represented, which is Sadr and the entire Sadrist movement," said Khafaji.

Though a former Governing Council member herself, Khafaji said she opposed the guarantee of seats for herself and her colleagues. "But the CPA argued that the Governing Council members have expertise in running the country, and that different bodies will gain from our experience," she said. "I argued for having a debate and discussion, and competing for seats.... I think it is something that is not democratic, and it is not Iraqi."