A series of consultations on the transfer of powers from the occupation authorities to the Iraqi people is underway at the UN. The first meeting of "the group of interested parties in the Iraqi settlement" opened on Monday, December 1.
Under the plan drawn up by the USA and the Iraqi Interim Governing Council, the transfer of powers will take place in late June, when a provisional Iraqi government is elected. However, many questions remain about how the USA will return sovereignty to the Iraqis. For example, what role will the UN play in this process? Will it be an active participant or just an observer? The US-Iraqi plan says nothing about this.
Since the official end of hostilities in Iraq, the international community, in particular, France, Germany and Russia, has insisted that the occupying powers give the Iraqis an opportunity to govern their country themselves.
Even before the beginning of the military campaign, the Iraqi opposition had met more than once to discuss the country's future political system after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. Both emigrants who had returned home and people who had never left Iraq were prepared to take power into their hands. However, the USA did not transfer power to anyone and in July decided to appoint the members of Iraq's Interim Governing Council, relying on the principle of religious and ethnic representation.
There is a great difference here. Despite the fact that many prominent Iraqis were appointed to this body, the population saw it as a tool of US policy all the same, and this is true. The powers of Iraq's Interim Governing Council are limited and the Bremer administration has the final say in both military and administrative issues.
One vivid example of the past few days is the Interim Governing Council's decision to close the bureaus of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia TV channels for a month for "spreading a policy of violence and terror". The formal pretext was the broadcasting of addresses by Saddam Hussein. However, it is no secret that Washington has long been unhappy with these two TV channels for informing viewers about US losses in Iraq, casualties among the peaceful population and the deterioration of the social situation in the country. All this does not fit with the information policy being pursued by the Americans.
In a recent interview with The Times, Bremer complained that "being under occupation and being an occupation force is equally uncomfortable". Indeed, whatever steps the coalition authorities take to restore the country ruined by the war and years of economic sanctions and however much money the international community allocates to Iraq, the security situation reduces all these efforts to naught. The US military and their allies were not prepared for such a turn of events. At the weekend, seven Spanish secret service agents, two Japanese diplomats and their driver, a Lebanese citizen, a civil subcontractor from Colombia and two South-Korean engineers were killed.
Since the beginning of the Iraqi war, about 440 US soldiers have lost their lives, including 187 since May 1, when George Bush declared major hostilities to be over. Apart from these victims, 52 Britons and 17 Italians have been killed.
Attempts to crush Iraqi resistance only aggravate the sentiments of the peaceful population. This is all the more true given that, according to the information of the international non-governmental organisation Iraq Body Count, about 9,800 peaceful Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of the military campaign on March 20.
Bremer states that throughout centuries any occupation force has come up against one and the same problem. "The job of an army lies in killing", he recalls; however, when the stage of combat actions is over, the same soldiers have to play quite a different role. It is hard for twenty-year-olds who have gone to war to understand the need to change their model of behaviour, the head of the Iraqi occupation administration noted.
Proposals have been made to the Americans on more than one occasion that they consider the possibility of replacing occupation troops with peacekeeping forces. In the summer they were told that the best option was to deploy servicemen from Arab countries in Iraq, as they were more familiar with the traditions of the country. UN Security Council Resolution No 1511 authorised the creation of multinational forces under a single command.
However, it seems that in June when the occupation regime is over, coalition forces will stay in Iraq under an agreement with the new Iraqi leaders. The new chairman of Iraq's Interim Governing Council, Jalal Talabani, stressed in an interview with the Paris-based newspaper La Croix that the forces of the US-British coalition could not ensure security in Iraq on their own, while he also said, "only the Iraqis themselves can restore security in their country".
So, the idea of gradually replacing the Americans with peacekeepers from other countries remains on the table, but will the Iraqis agree to it?
Whether the troops are US soldiers or representatives from other countries may make no difference to the Iraqi resistance movement. Moreover, apart from the Iraqis who oppose occupation, professional terrorists from other countries are operating in Iraq and for them the occupation is just a pretext, not a motive. They will not lay down arms after Iraq regains sovereignty.
Leaving Iraq without external military assistance is out of the question now. The new Iraqi army and police are just forming. The Americans disbanded the old army and police, which have joined the ranks of the unemployed or the resistance movement.
Anyway, the Americans are not going to leave. US soldiers did not overthrow Saddam's dictatorship, fight and sustain losses only to retreat in the face of a gang of murderers, US President George Bush stated during his recent short visit to Baghdad. Bush promised the Iraqis that the Americans would not leave until they saw their job through.
Mouwaffak ar-Rabia, a member of Iraq's Interim Governing Council who met the US leader in Baghdad, has the impression that Bush is not one of who hesitates, while he is prepared to pay any price, however high, to achieve his aim, which now means building democracy in Iraq.
However, in this case, there is another problem: even though the Iraqis are prepared to accept aid from the West, in particular, financial assistance, this does not mean that Western values should be imposed on them.
Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of the Shiites, has already stated that the plan drawn up by Iraq's Interim Governing Council "does not take Islamic culture into account and gives Iraqis very few rights." The key problem, however, is that while formally agreeing to end the occupation of Iraq, the Americans intend to play the decisive role in the life of the country. Is this possible? Do the Iraqis want this? Will the USA agree to a different scenario? These are the questions that need to be answered at the consultations in New York.
Marianna Belenkaya, RIAN