TOPICS > Politics

Troubled Transition

January 19, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Among those taking part in today’s meetings at the U.N. was the current president of Iraq’s Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi. He joins us now.

Mr. Pachachi, given your meetings today with Kofi Annan and Sir Jeremy Greenstock from Great Britain and Paul Bremer from the U.S., do you feel like you’re any closer than you were before to meeting that July 1 handover deadline?

ADNAN PACHACHI: I think it was a very useful meeting today. We had a very good dialogue, and we exchanged our views. And I think it’s quite clear what should be done in the future. Everybody knows exactly how we should proceed from now on. And we have agreed on various things to be done.

GWEN IFILL: Give me an idea of what you mean when you say everyone’s agreed on what needs to be done. What does need to be done? We’ve been seeing some of the protests over the weekend, some of the violence over the weekend.

ADNAN PACHACHI: Well, I think we’re all agreed that we should maintain the deadline of June 30 for the transfer of power to sovereignty to Iraqis. On this there is no difference of opinion, neither here nor among Iraqis in Iraq. We asked the secretary general to send a team to Iraq to investigate and find out whether it’s feasible to have elections now in the next three or four months before the transitional government takes over from the CPA.

GWEN IFILL: As you point out correctly, there is agreement about that; there should be power handed over. Where there isn’t agreement is how that power should be handed over, whether they should be direct elections. And that opposition seems to be led by a fairly powerful Shiite leader, Ayatollah al-Sistani.

ADNAN PACHACHI: Let me make it quite clear that we all feel that elections are the best way to elect the legislative body. I think this is something which is obvious. But the problem is the time. Can we have such elections, the secretary general in his last report at the Security Council said he doubts whether we can have fair and orderly and credible elections within this short period of time. Many things have to be done before elections can be properly held.

GWEN IFILL: You have … I’m sorry, go ahead.

ADNAN PACHACHI: You know, like, we need an electoral law, we need a law organizing the functioning of political parties and the guaranteeing freedom of the assembly in the press. And people have to engage in political activities prior to any election. I don’t know that all this can be done in three months, frankly.

GWEN IFILL: You have met with Ayatollah al-Sistani, have you told him your concerns, that the kinds of direct elections that he wants to see happening…

ADNAN PACHACHI: Well, I mean, I told him we would love to have … we want elections, I think this is the best way to … but because of the shortness of time, I mean, we are inhibited, really, by time. And nobody wants to extend the theory beyond June 30. Therefore, we have to do whatever can be done within that short period of time. He, of course, he had some very grave reservations about the adequacy of the … what is being proposed now, you know, the caucuses and so on, but he acknowledges that there can be room for improvement in this process. And he said that if elections are not feasible, then we have to try for the best under the circumstances.

GWEN IFILL: Is that message being communicated to the tens of thousands of people who are protesting on the streets in cities like Basra this week?

ADNAN PACHACHI: Well, I don’t know, but I think it should because he said it in so many words, Ayatollah al-Sistani said elections are not possible, and he thinks that they may be possible. But if they are not possible then we have to do the best possible under the circumstances. But he feels that the best is not in the proposal outlined in the agreement of Nov. 15; that this can be improved considerably. We’ll be working on that, also.

GWEN IFILL: So how do you give this improvement, do you do it by getting the United Nations and Kofi Annan to act as a go-between, do you act as a go-between?

ADNAN PACHACHI: Well, the first thing, the United Nations is being asked is really to see whether elections are feasible or not. And if they decide they are not feasible, then they probably ought to find alternatives in consultation with us, the Governing Council, and the CPA. As I said, there is room for improvement. And it’s a rather complicated process, you know, having caucuses in each of the 18 provinces of Iraq, and the way to choose the people who will be taking part in this process. But I think this can be done by, you know, exercising a very high degree of transparency inclusiveness.

GWEN IFILL: The complicated process you describe is the one that the United States has proposed, is it not?

ADNAN PACHACHI: Well, I mean, it is the best thing in their opinion, short of direct elections, because in the end, we want to have a body of, a legislative body, of 250 members who would represent, in effect, the majority of the people of Iraq. They’ll have a broad basis for representation. And this is what specifically the council has asked. They did not ask for an elected government, they asked for a representative government.

GWEN IFILL: The other concern that the United Nations has is the question of security, something that everyone has been alluding to, whether anybody feels safe going back and working this out. We saw this weekend the biggest suicide car bomb attack in Baghdad since the United Nations was forced to leave the country. How does that situation affect your ability to get a new government up and running?

ADNAN PACHACHI: Well, obviously, security is a problem, it continues to be a problem for a while, but there has been improvement in security. And we have told the secretary general that we as the Iraqi Governing Council, through our police and civil defense groups, as well as, of course, the coalition groups, will be able to provide a reasonable degree of security, which is what is being provided for us and others who are working in the Iraqi government.

GWEN IFILL: Did the folks at the U.N. seem like they could be convinced by that?

ADNAN PACHACHI: Well, I mean, I hope they will be, because there’s obviously an element of risk. But I think this risk is not that great, and after all, well, the process of doing something unique and historic as building a viable democracy in a country that has been ravaged by war from the years of sanctions.

GWEN IFILL: Adnan Pachachi, thank you very much for joining us.


JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez has more on the U.N. part of the story.

RAY SUAREZ: Joining me now is David Malone, he was the Canadian ambassador to the U.N. from 1992 to 1994 and is now president of the International Peace Academy, a conflict resolution organization in New York City. Ambassador, Paul Bremer today said his administration hopes the U. N. “will return to play a role in Iraq and we hope that happens soon.” Given everything that’s happened between the United States and the United Nations over the past year, what’s brought us to this moment?

DAVID MALONE: Well, I think the American military occupation is seriously distressed. And now that the Kurdish leadership is creating obstacles for the CPA as well as Ayatollah al-Sistani standing on his demands for direct elections, it seems time to get another actor in the picture who might be able to mediate between the three leading Iraqi communities. I don’t think elections can be held, reputable elections, before the end of June. And so the question becomes, as Mr. Pachachi was hinting at, how do we get to an interim government on the 30th of June that the three major communities can live with? And clearly the plans for caucuses as it stands isn’t it.

RAY SUAREZ: Kofi Annan himself has said that he really doesn’t think elections can be organized before May. Is it important for the United States to have a third party arbiter like the United Nations make that determination in the face of Iraqi calls for election?

DAVID MALONE: Well, I think it can be helpful, yes.

RAY SUAREZ: And sending a technical team over now, is that a move that’s also fraught with danger for the U.N., given the way it had to exit under terrible threat late last year?

DAVID MALONE: Yes, that’s true. The U.N., though, of course contributed to its own security problems in Baghdad. It’s left a residue of great bitterness amongst U.N. staff. But there are other ways for the U.N. to function. It can function with lean teams as long as the leadership of the team is very strong, as has been the U.N. effort in Afghanistan recently led by Brahimi. And it can do quite a bit of the negotiating by flying in and out of Baghdad, and also doing some of it outside of Iraq, as has been going on today, for example.

RAY SUAREZ: There are Iraqis inside Iraq who can’t wait for the United States to leave and say that they’re calling for a U.N. presence. And now the United States is asking the U.N. to get involved. This put Secretary-General Annan in a very delicate situation?

DAVID MALONE: Well, Annan needs to be extremely careful, because in a number of situations in the past where the U.N. has worked jointly with the United States, notably Somalia, the United States cut and ran and then blamed the U.N. for the mess.

On the other hand, there’s a long history of the U.S. working very well with the U.N. in Africa, in Afghanistan, recently, in Kosovo today. So Annan needs to be sure that the circumstances are right, that there are no misunderstandings between himself and Washington, and also that publics around the world understand that success isn’t guaranteed. In the best of circumstances we’re in a very dicey situation in Iraq, with only five-and-a-half months to go before the handover of government.

RAY SUAREZ: Is it your impression that Secretary-General Annan has the backing of other Security Council members, other members of the permanent five besides the United States?

DAVID MALONE: Well, at least four of the five permanent members have an interest in seeing the U.N. return to Iraq. The British and the Americans because they need help with the particular political equation there trying to grapple with, and the French and the Russians because they are currently dealt out of the game altogether in Baghdad. If the U.N. returns, they may see it as an opportunity to exercise some influence through the U.N. So those four countries actually have an interest in seeing the U.N. return, and most U.N. member states, I think, would be happy to do so, if Annan believes he can do so in a way that will make a positive contribution for Iraqis, and if a degree of security commensurate with the U.N.’s role can be provided.

RAY SUAREZ: The first technical team that’s being talked about heading over to Baghdad from the United Nations is quite small. But are there appearance issues here? Is it important to Kofi Annan to not appear that he’s salvaging American strategy in Iraq? Is asserting the relevance of the United Nations important in getting re-involved?

DAVID MALONE: Absolutely. This is very important. Sergio De Mello, the terrific U. N. representative in Baghdad who was killed last August, was often accused of simply selling the Bremer plan for Iraq. This time the U.N. needs a role that’s clearly independent in its own sphere of activity, the constitutional and political sphere. And that has to be accepted by the CPA, by Ambassador Bremer, by Washington. But I suspect that the distress experienced by the CPA is sufficient today that the preoccupation with total control over developments in Iraq, which in any event it’s not able to exercise in the security sphere may be diminishing.

RAY SUAREZ: Among elements of the Bush administration there has occasionally been resistance to U.N. involvement in Iraqi reconstruction. Is that breach closing, do you believe?

DAVID MALONE: Well, I think there will always be people within the administration in Washington who would prefer not to have to deal with the U.N.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador David Malone, thanks for joining us.

DAVID MALONE: Thank you.