GWEN IFILL: Now, the first steps on the road to building a new Iraqi government, and to Ray Suarez.
RAY SUAREZ: The new Iraqi governing council wasted no time getting down to business, marking the day that Baghdad fell to U.S. forces as a national celebration.
MOHAMMED BAHR AL-ULOUM, Member Iraq Governing Council (translated): Cancel all government holidays and feasts which are related to the dictator's regime and that are related to the dissolved Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party. Secondly, the 9th of April, the day the regime fell, should be considered a national day and a feast and a national holiday for all Iraqis.
RAY SUAREZ: Iraq's governing council held its inaugural meeting at the former ministry for military industry in Baghdad yesterday amid tight security. The 25-member group was not elected, but appointed by the U.S. administration in Iraq.
The council is composed of Iraqi nationals representing several ethnic and religious groups in the country: thirteen Shiia Muslims, five Sunni Muslims among the Iraqi Arabs, and also five Kurds, one Christian, and one Turkmen. Three council members are women. The council is almost evenly divided among exiles and Iraqis who were in the country during Saddam Hussein's era. The most prominent exile is Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, who has had strong U.S. backing. Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution; Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, leaders of the two main Kurdish groups; and former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi were also appointed.
The council has the power to nominate and dismiss ministers and to direct policy. It's also expected to help draft a new constitution which would pave the way for free elections in the country. But the man in charge of Iraq's reconstruction, civilian administrator Paul Bremer, will still have the final word. Bremer attended yesterday's session.
L. PAUL BREMER: We will spare no efforts in helping you succeed in this task as we go forward together in the months ahead.
RAY SUAREZ: On the streets of various Iraqi towns, the reaction to the new governing council was mixed.
MAN (Translated): We hope it will be a useful government for the people of Iraq. Anyone who came back to Iraq on the back of an American tank cannot serve the people of Iraq. Only those who suffered inside the country should serve us.
MAN (Translated): As for the newly formed government, they are all strangers in the council. We don't know them. We want proper patriotic government with stability and security. We want this country to be protected from any foreign invasion. We don't want to remain occupied for the rest of our lives.
RAY SUAREZ: Assembling the council was the Bush administration's second attempt to come up with a new Iraqi government to restore security in the country. Bremer's predecessor, former Army General Jay Garner, had promised an elected interim government by late May, and he helped organize at least two meetings of Iraqis to begin the process. But when Bremer took over, he quashed that idea, saying he wanted a more representative group of Iraqis. He also cited the deteriorating security situation. In the weeks since, Iraqi resistance fighters have stepped up sabotage and their attacks both on occupying American troops and Iraqis working with the U.S. Administration.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the significance of the council and the challenges its members face, we get two perspectives: Adeed Dawisha is a professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio. He was born in Iraq, and is now an American citizen. And Edmund Ghareeb is an adjunct professor in the School of International Service at American University. Well, gentlemen, we heard Mohammed Bahr al-Ulou returned exile, Islamic cleric speaking to the assembly. He called the council an expression of the Iraqi national will. Is it fair to call this wider group of 25 an expression of the Iraqi national will? Edmund Ghareeb.
EDMUND GHAREEB: I think there's no doubt that this group, we can say that there are positive as well as negative aspects to it. On the positive side, there's no doubt that this involves Iraq, who now in the government at least contributing to the process. It also has now more executive authority than we heard earlier it was going to have. We also see that it does have prominent personalities or representative and who have strong base in Iraq, for example, Massoud Barzani who is the son of the leader of the late Moustafa Barzani, the leader Kurdish national movement, and himself a prominent figure in Iraqi and Kurdish affairs; Jalal Talabani, another figure. We had Pachachi, who is the former Iraqi foreign minister. These are well-known figures that are representative individuals and we also know there are also Shiite groups who represent the opposition and who do have a base inside the country. This is on the positive side. On the negative side, however, we do have first of all that this is an appointed council, this is a group that is, we're going to have questions, as with we've heard from several other people, about how representative they are. Some of them are selected on the basis of ethnicity, religion, and their tribes, which some people are going to look at as a step backwards, not a step forward. So there are going to be questions -- the final point I make on this is to what extent will these people who have had some of them have had problems with each other in the past? Will they be able to work with each other?
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Dawisha, a good start, and will they be able to work with each other?
ADEED DAWISHA: That's going to be the first test. It's a hodgepodge of individuals that were brought together. Many of them probably did not see eye to eye with each other, certainly the groups that were in London before coming to Baghdad. It would be interesting to see, and that will be the measure of their legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people, to what extent they can overcome and go beyond these kind of differences and think in terms of Iraq, think of Iraqi national interests, and think in terms of them as a government that has to do, that has to get the job done. I would also add another hurdle that they have to overcome is the perception that they are somehow kind of connected to the CPA, that they are because they've been appointed basically by the CPA. But they've been given pretty wide decision-making powers, and they have to prove to the Iraqis that they actually can go along with these powers, and when there is a problem with the CPA, that they have to stand their ground. Don't forget they did stand their ground. Paul Bremer wanted to have an advisory council. We ended up with a governing council because these people actually stood their ground and insisted that the only way they're going to get into any position like that is through government.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Adnan Pachachi, the Iraqi independent democrats leader, said, "I don't foresee where Mr. Bremer would ever cast a veto against the council." But Bremer himself said yesterday the bottom line is we're still in charge. So, how did the seeming conflict of those two statements, where does the grand council end up standing, what kind of authority do they have?
ADEED DAWISHA: Are you talking to me?
RAY SUAREZ: Yes, Professor Dawisha.
ADEED DAWISHA: These two statements need not be mutually exclusive. Bremer has a veto power, and this is something that Pachachi and Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum had admitted and accepted. Even though he has the veto power, they think that he will not be willing or able to wield it because if there is a problem, they are going to go to Bremer, and they're going to sit around a table and they will try to resolve it through discussion and through compromise. That's the position of the governing council, and I think it may very well be the case, unless they come up with something so egregious to the interests of Iraq or indeed to the American interests that Bremer feels he has to wield the veto power. But any disagreement could certainly be resolved through decision and consultation.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor Ghareeb, this council has authority over finance, transportation, infrastructure improvements-- a lot of things that Iraqis, if it works, will see actually changing their lives. They will also be able to hire and fire the government representatives who have a lot of input into Iraq's daily lives. Will that be enough to win over the men we heard at the end of that report talking about how they were outsiders?
EDMUND GHAREEB: First of all, these people have a very tough challenge ahead of them. It's not going to be easy to achieve what Iraqis would like to achieve, especially since there have been a lot of expectations, especially after the promises of our democracy, about freedom, but the most important thing is that these people, and this is what you pointed out, too, they have to win the confidence of the Iraqi people. They have to win the trust of the Iraqi people. The way they will do that, first of all if they appear that they are really working to create a representative government, it's going to protect the interests of the rights... of the minority as well as the majority. But more important than that, before you even get to the point of having direction they'll have to work with Mr. Bremer to bring about the restoration of the public services, electricity, water. They're going to end crime, end the looting, because people want security, they want to be able to live normal lives. In order to do that, they have to allow the bureaucracy to start working again. They have to bring the police force to work, they have to bring the Iraqi military, too, which may have been one of the biggest mistakes, dissolving the military. There's no doubt you may have some questions about the leadership, you want to change that. The average rank and file, that may have been a big problem, and to involve large numbers of Iraqis, and to create a civil society if they are able to do that, and these are monumental tasks, especially during this time... so it's not going to be easy. But if they can begin to do that and if they begin to prepare for elections, maybe first on the local level, and then on the national level, and involve maybe some kind of international supervision, then that would be a very, very important step forward.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Dawisha, is there an agreement to which this could also reduce the threat to Americans who are on the ground in Iraq, the more that the hand of this council has seen is running the day-to-day affairs of the country?
ADEED DAWISHA: Undoubtedly. I think if they can overcome all of these problems that Dr. Ghareeb came up with which are absolutely true, and if the situation for the average Iraqi becomes better, if they can get unemployment benefit, if they can begin to be employed, if the ministries begin to start running, all of these things are going to lower the frustration threshold which the Iraqis now feel. So as a result of that, you are going to see a lessening of the willingness of Iraqis to tolerate the kind of attacks that have been perpetrated against the American personnel, but what I still think are some remnants from the old regime. But certainly if Iraq can go back to a certain amount of normalcy, you will find that along with that you're going to get also a diminution of the attacks on the Americans, and that certainly the Americans will see that as a function of what this new governing council is doing. In other words, if they can see the council is delivering the goods, that will reverberate positively on everybody, including the American presence in Iraq for the time being at least.
RAY SUAREZ: But do they have a very short time window -
EDMUND GHAREEB: They certainly do. And also they have to show that they are independent and down the road that they are working to restore the sovereignty and independence of Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: Does this also create-- Go ahead, professor. Jump in.
ADEED DAWISHA: I'm just saying, I was just saying and adding to that, they want to also move on the constitutional political arrangements. They've been talking about a constitutional conference. They need to work on that, to get a constitution going. They need to begin to talk about an electoral law. They need to talk about legalizing political parties and allowing them to campaign. This is just as important was the economic and infrastructural restructuring that they are going to be undertaking.
EDMUND GHAREEB: One final point is they have to show that they are working for all the Iraqi people and not only working for their own communities. Be it a tribal identity or religious identity or whatever, they have to work on behalf of all the Iraqis, and they have to show that they are able to work together and that they can bring in others as well to help them.
RAY SUAREZ: Professors, thank you very much.