TOPICS > Politics

Troubled Transition

April 19, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: So how will this handover plan work, especially if the violence continues? And what are the prospects for success? For that we’re joined by: Nancy Soderberg, vice president of the International Crisis Group, a non-profit group promoting conflict resolution. She held senior positions on the National Security Council staff, and the U.S. delegation to the U.N., during the Clinton administration. Michael Rubin, a former staff assistant in the office of the secretary of defense from 2002 to 2004, including a stint advising the coalition authority in Iraq. He’s now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. And Adeed Dawisha, a professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio. Born in Iraq, he’s now an American citizen. Welcome to you all.

And, Michael Rubin, what is this ongoing violence and bloodshed doing to the prospects for this handover in just ten weeks?

MICHAEL RUBIN: Well, there’s no question that the on goings violence makes the prospects for transfer a bit more difficult. But I would argue that the greater threat right now would be if we didn’t transfer. The consequences of that would be far greater. We’ve already changed course three or four times in the course of the past year since liberation, with regard to different plans. If we hold back on our promises to transfer sovereignty, I do believe that violence will get worse.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see that, Nancy Soderberg, the violence will get worse if we delay the plan? Or do you agree with John Burns that the violence is already stalling the process?

NANCY SODERBERG: Well, the violence is the major problem that the administration has right now, they have to do something to build momentum on the ground, and that’s why June 30 has to go forward. But have you to remember it’s not going to solve all their problems.

The security situation is going to continue until there’s a true transfer of power and real sovereignty, which will not happen until there’s elections in 2005.

MARGARET WARNER: And Adeed Dawisha, Professor Dawisha, do you agree as well that violence or no, this transitional handover has to take place?

ADEED DAWISHA: Oh, absolutely. We’ve already committed ourselves to the process. President Bush said we will do it, Paul Bremer said so. And I think I agree with the other two speakers that if we delay, it will only lead to more violence because it will be seen as a sign of weakness on our part and a sign of the resistance has won. So we should basically continue with the June 30 date.

MARGARET WARNER: Nancy Soderberg, back to you. Explain, let’s look at Brahimi’s proposal now. And first of all, the idea of dissolving the governing council — now just earlier this month Secretary of State Colin Powell was saying he thought that governing council should be the core, the nucleus of whatever expanded transitional government came into being. Brahimi’s first step is get rid of them. Why?

NANCY SODERBERG: Because there’s zero legitimacy in Iraq, and the administration finally came around to realizing that. What Brahimi has done is redefine the definition of success of a handover of authority on June 30.

He said very clearly in his press conference last week that true legitimacy will only come through elections in 2005, so he’s trying to create a holding pattern of technocrats that are less politicized, less confrontational than the group that’s lost the support of the international community during this period and create a new feeling, if not a new reality on the ground.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that Michael Rubin, that the governing council really had run out of –

MICHAEL RUBIN: I don’t fully agree. Iraqis do complain about the governing council a great deal, but they will also point out one or two persons with whom they agree. Frankly, many people are excluded from the governing council, but many people will also be excluded from any new interim government of technocrats.

The idea that we can find or the United Nations can find technocrats that have no political agenda, we might as well also search for the tooth fairy. It simply does not exist. One of the problems we’re going to face between July and October with the governing council, it spent all its time working out its internal rules and regulations. I’m not sure if we completely jettison the core of the governing council whether we can afford to waste that amount of time when such crucial issues are facing Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: Nancy Soderberg, back to you, then how is the next step or the simultaneous step Mr. Brahimi is suggesting is somehow the U.N. is going to pick out these 25 technocrats, how will that work, who will do the choosing?

NANCY SODERBERG: What he’s going to do is sometime in May sit down with the coalition authorities, Paul Bremer and his colleagues, the current interim governing council, the IGC (Iraqi Governing Council) and then some additional Iraqis that have yet to be determined and develop a new interim government led by a prime minister, a president and two vice presidents, who will then run the government through elections next year.

They’ll also once the transfer of sovereignty has happened on June 30 have the national convention that picks what they’re calling a consultative assembly to give the Iraqis an outlet to express their political views and have a little bit of steam left off. What Brahimi is trying to do here is create a new environment that is less confrontational, less controversial than the IGC has become. It will not fundamentally be that much different than the current one. I think you’ll see some same faces, through it will create the appearance of a new beginning. And this only has to last until elections through next year, so it’s a short term holding pattern that he’s come up with.

MARGARET WARNER: Professor Dawisha, how feasible a plan does that seem to you?

ADEED DAWISHA: Oh, it’s feasible enough. But, again, I reiterate some of the problems that have already been mentioned. For example, the particular government that’s going to be taking over is going to have a very large program on its hands. It’s supposed to be the group of people who are going to prepare the country for elections. Well, that’s a tall order to do in six months. They have to have a census, they have to have districting, they have to have an electoral law, an association law. They got to get political parties going.

And I’m not sure that any group, whether it’s the governing council or a new group, is going to be able to do that within that period. If you add a consultative assembly that I presume will be somehow selected by the United Nations, then you’re going to increase that margin of debate that’s going to be going on, and will only in a sense slow down the process until January. So how everything is going to be ready for elections, which I agree is the ultimate legitimizer, in the next six or seven months after the takeover, after the transfer of power, I’m somewhat skeptical.

MARGARET WARNER: But let me ask you briefly do, you think that this interim government, and I’m now just talking about the executive authority, the 25-member group, is going to have more legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqis because it’s picked by the U.N. than the current governing council about the same size, which was picked by the U.S.?

ADEED DAWISHA: Well, I’m not sure why this is the case. I presume because the Americans are not going to be involved. You can argue that it will be seen as a neutral endeavor. But I agree with your earlier speaker, I would not be surprised that a number of the faces and the names we see now today, particularly amongst the cabinet, in other words those who are ministers of various — with various portfolios — to be repeated, because these people after all were technocrats.

I mean, they were lawyers, they were engineers, they were doctors, they were economists, and they were chosen for the technocratic abilities. Why would we suddenly within four months dish them out and bring another group in, is beyond me.

MARGARET WARNER: Michael Rubin, explain another apparent turnaround at least to me. Given what many senior people in this administration have said about the U. N. in the past, why suddenly is President Bush, first of all he gave his blessing to the Brahimi visit and sort of study of this, he and Secretary Rumsfeld were both very quick to endorse it and say this is our new plan?

MICHAEL RUBIN: I get the sense that the administration is favoring shore term expediency over the long-term good of Iraq in this particular case. I strongly suggest that the United Nations is not going to bring more legitimacy to any new interim government, because while the United Nations has a great deal of legitimacy in Washington and London, Baghdad is quite another story. Many, 80 percent of the Iraqi population is not Arab Sunni, the majority of Iraq’s population are Arab Shia. You also have a substantial population of Kurds. The Shia and Kurdish population hold the United Nations accountable for its silence during the campaign which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Kurds and also the failed uprising of March 1991.

What’s important to know is that during both these times, Lakhdar Brahimi was under secretary of the Arab League and chose to remain silent. And what we also shouldn’t forget is that with the original governing council it wasn’t just a U.S. appointed governing council, the British participated and Sergio De Mello participated, the late U.N. envoy.

MARGARET WARNER: Nancy Soderberg, mentioning Sergio De Mello reminds us of the horrible bombing of the U.N. headquarters last August when then Kofi Annan basically pulled the U.N. out. Is he willing now to essentially commit the U.N. to this much greater role?

NANCY SODERBERG: Not yet. He has been very clear that he will not send the U.N. back into Iraq until he’s convinced that the political situation is satisfactory. He’s deeply angry at himself for sending Sergio De Mello into Iraq when he mew the political conditions were wrong, lost his best guy, and 20 of the best U.N. public servants and he just will not do it again.

In my 15 years of watching the U.N., I’ve never seen such a collective steel will to insist on the conditions. So he is saying we’ll only go back if there’s a realistic mandate that’s feasible and that the security is right, and that’s a high bar.

MARGARET WARNER: So the question is, does that put the Brahimi plan in limbo, or is there a way for the idea to go forward without a renewed U.N. presence?

NANCY SODERBERG: Right, well, I think what you’ll see is a continuation of what’s already started since the beginning of this year when the Bush administration asked the U.N. to get involved again, which is a high level political role — whether Brahimi continues in that role or someone else remains to be seen.

But there will be a high level political engagement and they’ll begin to organize the elections. It was interesting that President Bush knew the name of the technical team in the U.N., I mean, how long ago would it be that the U.N. was evil words on the lips of this administration, now they know the names of the technocrats there running the elections and that’s a good sign.

What the U.N. will do is run the elections through next fall but hold off on a massive presence until the security situation improves, probably next year.

MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, Michael Rubin, how will this, it sounds like there will be a bifurcated situation in which you’ll have the new Iraqi group with the political authority, no longer the U.S., no more Paul Bremer operation, but the U.S. is still running the security show, how will that work?

MICHAEL RUBIN: Well, when you look back on Iraqi history, there’s a history of constitutions and laws which haven’t been worth the paper they’ve been written on and the important function of U.S. troops is not only security but guaranteeing rule of law.

I would actually contextualize the current problems we have in — as the United States demonstrating to the Iraqi people for the first time in history that authority is going to stick up for the carefully negotiated compromises that led in this case to the transitional administrative law that the new Iraqi interim constitution.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it from there. Thank you all three very much.