New stage in Iraqs struggle vs. occupation

News Analysis

With the naming of an interim Iraqi government following a contentious process, Iraq’s struggle for sovereignty and an end to the U.S. occupation enters a new phase. That struggle will focus on establishing Iraqi control over the nation’s life and wresting military, political and economic control away from the U.S.

Although President Bush is hailing the interim administration as a victory for his policies, it was Iraqi political leaders, working with UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi, who ultimately determined the makeup of the new leadership, rejecting some candidates pushed by the White House and Pentagon.

In a controversial move, Iyad Allawi, a Shiite former Baathist exile with CIA ties, was named interim prime minister. According to Iraqis involved in the negotiations that led to his selection, other contenders were rejected by the main Islamic parties as being too liberal, and Kurdish parties had concerns about some nominees. In the end, Allawi, a secularist on the Iraqi Governing Council who was in charge of security, a major concern for most Iraqis, was seen as an acceptable if not wildly popular compromise. One official told the UK Observer that Allawi was “the least bad of all the options.”

Although Allawi’s close ties to the State Department and CIA are seen as undermining his credibility, he is also seen by some as a skillful administrator well positioned to deal with the deteriorating security in Iraq. He is also viewed as a clever tactician, an Iraqi political observer told the World, and the hope is that he will not fully serve U.S. interests.

Some commentators link Allawi’s appointment to conflict between the State Department, CIA and military officials, on one hand, and neo-conservative ideologues in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney, who long promoted war on Iraq. Following the June 30 official handover of political power to the interim Iraqi government, the Pentagon-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority will disband and the U.S. occupation will shift to State Department control, based in a huge U.S. embassy headed by John Negroponte, a long-time foreign service operative tied to CIA activities in Central America.

Allawi is a bitter opponent of Ahmad Chalabi, the neo-cons’ favorite. Chalabi and his close allies were excluded from the interim government. Chalabi “is effectively finished, at least for the time being,” Iraqi Communist Party spokesperson Salam Ali said.

Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni leader of the prominent Shammar tribe, was named interim president. The tribe, one of the largest and most influential in the region, includes both Shia and Sunni Muslim clans. Yawar, a member of the now-disbanded Governing Council, has had good relations with both Shiites and Kurds. He has been strongly critical of the U.S. occupation.

The two interim vice presidents are Ibrahim Jaafari, from one of the two main Shiite parties, the Dawa Party, and Rowsch Shaways, president of the Kurdish National Assembly and member of the Kurdish Democratic Party, one of the two major Kurdish parties.

Significantly, Kurds hold several positions in the interim government. Among them is Hoshyar Zebari, a member of the KDP, who continues as foreign minister. The deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh, is prime minister of the Kurdish regional government and a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the other major Kurdish party. Kurds won autonomy in their region in the 1970s, but they were allowed no role in the central Iraqi government. Their autonomy was undermined by Saddam Hussein, who slaughtered thousands of Kurds in 1975. Today Iraqi progressives see federalism – in which Kurds have local self-rule but also participate in the national government, with other Iraqi nationalities – as a key element in building a unified, independent nation.

In another new step, six of the 33 cabinet members are women. Iraqi Communist Party member Mufid Al-Jazairy continues as culture minister.

Preparations are now under way for a national conference of 1,000 in July. That meeting will choose a national council of 100 that will, hopefully, exercise influence over the interim government, ICP spokesperson Ali said. The council is supposed to be able to veto – by a two-thirds majority vote – laws approved by the interim government. Ali, a London-based member of the ICP Central Committee, said the council’s “watchdog” role was a compromise. “It should have had real authority, he said.”

Iraqi Communists are now focusing on the political and electoral struggles ahead, Ali told the World.

Ali said the ICP intends to play an active role in the struggle for full Iraqi sovereignty. He noted that the U.S. is maneuvering to get a UN Security Council resolution that will allow it to retain military and economic control in Iraq. An amended draft submitted by the U.S. effectively allows U.S. troops to remain in Iraq until the end of 2005, he pointed out.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.