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THE WORLD

Iraqi Council's Path Diverges From U.S. Plan

Representatives act without consulting the coalition authority, a sign of a power struggle.

September 20, 2003|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Cracks are emerging in the relationship between the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council, suggesting that as the Iraqis gain more power they may pursue policies that could undercut coalition efforts to install a democratic government here.

The unelected council members, appointed in consultation with the coalition, have begun approving measures and publicly floating proposals without discussing them first with coalition leaders. Topics include ridding the government of many former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, remaking the nation's security forces, outlining the criteria for Iraqi citizenship and prodding Americans to hand over power more quickly.

One proposal likely to be approved by the council envisions combining the militias of various factions as well as some members of the old regime's police and military into a paramilitary force controlled by the Iraqi Interior Ministry -- a move that coalition officials worry could create a host of problems.

"We know there is concern about the security situation -- a concern the coalition shares," said Dan Senor, a spokesman for and advisor to coalition administrator L. Paul Bremer III.

"But we also have to ensure that when we leave Iraq, the security structure has a proper vetting process so that former Baathists and dead-enders and Mukhabarat [members of Hussein's dreaded security force] don't figure out a way to weasel back into the security structure," Senor said. "We also have to make sure that there is respect for human rights and a high standard of professionalism."

Some also fear that a paramilitary force composed of fighters loyal to different political factions would attempt to divide power and territory across the country.

Such a force, as opposed to the Iraqi army being trained by international experts, could lead "to the fragmentation of the country, warlordism and civil war," said Gary Samore, director of studies for the London-based Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Under international law, the Governing Council's recommendations must be approved by occupation officials before they go into effect, and Bremer has the power to veto the council's proposals. But because the American goal is to hand over power to the interim council, it has been in Bremer's interest to assent as much as possible to its proposals, and he has publicly said he expected he would never have to use his veto.

However, he has not yet approved the security initiative.

The council's growing independence puts the Americans in a corner. Coalition officials are eager to prove to the world that they are sincere about giving Iraqis real power over their government, but they also want to ensure that the policies adopted are roughly compatible with those of a democratic government and the rule of law.

"The U.S. is in fact interested in handing over power, but they are concerned that the current contenders for power are not likely to be able to run the country effectively or democratically," Samore said.

The council members' bid for power comes at a time when the Americans can ill afford to confront them. France and Germany are pushing the United States to hand over control to Iraqis quickly to win U.N. financial support and diplomatic backing for Iraq's reconstruction -- help the U.S. sorely needs.

Although many Governing Council members' proposals are still in the formative stage, most have the backing of the five most powerful members of the body -- those who represent established political organizations.

It is those five groups -- the Iraqi National Congress, the Iraqi National Accord, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- that have moved most aggressively on the security front, pushing to take responsibility from the Americans, a change that also would hugely augment their own power.

Those council members are aware of the pressure on the United States to give the Iraqis power and avoid confrontation, and are capitalizing on it, one coalition official said.

If an idea can gain enough currency before it reaches Bremer, it is harder for him to oppose it, especially with a U.N. debate on Iraq set to begin Tuesday.

For instance, on Sunday, the council approved a new law on de-Baathification and announced it publicly before reviewing the details with Bremer. The measure would not only remove a number of Iraqis from their jobs because they formerly held positions in the Baath Party -- the organization through which Hussein maintained tight control over the nation -- but also revoke exceptions made by Bremer in the de-Baathification order he issued in May. The new rules were announced this week by a spokesman for the council's president, Ahmed Chalabi.

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