In the midst of the ongoing violence in Iraq — and even as Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul Bremer declares the Iraqis simply won’t have the capability to ensure security after June 30 — it almost seems secondary to discuss what happens when the United States turns over some version of sovereignty to some version of an interim Iraqi governing body.
But for various reasons, not the least of which is President Bush’s apparent determination to adhere to the date, some kind of transfer is likely to take place.
Which makes Lakhdar Brahimi a key player. A veteran Algerian diplomat, Brahimi is the United Nations’ designated mediator in Iraq.
As a Sunni Muslim who once headed the Arab League of 10 states, one may wonder how much influence he will have with Iraq’s majority Shias. But President Bush, apparently lacking a transfer-of-power plan of his own, has said the U.S. will go along with whatever transfer plan Brahimi includes in a report due to be delivered to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in a week or so.
Brahimi has shared the general outline of his plan.
He wants to disband the current Iraqi Governing Council and replace it with an interim council of “technocrats,” its members to be appointed jointly by the United Nations and the coalition. It will be headed by a president, two vice presidents and a prime minister, mirroring the proposed interim Iraqi constitution and seeking to accommodate the three major ethnic/religious groups, the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds.
In July, a national conference reflecting all the various factions in Iraq — somewhat analogous to the traditional loya jirga that met in Afghanistan before forming a government — is supposed to meet to plan elections for next January.
How much involvement will the United Nations have in all this? “That’s all up to Kofi Annan,” said Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “He’s not revealing much” and probably won’t until we see how the intensity of the insurgency develops in coming days.
Ottaway believes that if Ayatollah Sistani and other Shia clerics confront radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and convince him to settle down — and if the council of Sunni clerics in Fallujah has enough moral authority to enforce the cease-fire in Fallujah — there is a chance of peace and security. But she isn’t taking any bets.
It seems likely that under the best of circumstances at least 130,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for the indefinite future. For Iraq’s sake and America’s, we should be planning to disengage militarily as quickly as feasible. The only alternative seems to be doubling the troop commitment and putting down the insurgency brutally and decisively.
Perhaps that will be necessary eventually, but if it should come to that, it should be Iraqis rather than Americans who decide and carry it out.