The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Josh Marshall sums up the recent Iraqi-leader-selection drama thusly:
Now that some of the dust has settled, we can see one thing pretty clearly: the IGC basically hijacked the process. The IGC essentially reconstituted as a caretaker government. The new President, Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, was the current president of the IGC. Hoshiyar Zebari, who was the foreign minister in the IGC, is now the foreign minister under the interim government. Allawi was a member of and choice of the IGC, etc. And so on down the list. The only key issue is that Chalabi, if not his crew, has been purged. Brahimi agreed to a laying on of hands. But he didn't make the choices. He was sidelined.
A lot of this stuff happened pretty quickly, and a lot of people -- including the news departments of a few major papers -- were confused and offered contradictory interpretations and explanations for what was going on. Thus, I have not commented on this story until now.

The one thing I expected about the process for selecting members of post-June-30 Iraqi government was that we would witness a sort of Kabuki act, complete with silhouette lighting, between the US government, the Iraqi Governing Council, and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Each party involved has a goal, and while they're not mutually exclusive, they could be:

The US government wants, first and foremost, Iraqi leaders to emerge who are particularly friendly to American interests.

The Iraqi Governing Council wants its own people in leadership posts following the June 30 transfer of "sovereignty".

The UN and Brahimi want Iraq to have leaders who are as legitimate, both nationally and internationally, as possible.

Naturally, these goals do, or at least can overlap. The US created the Iraqi Governing Council, and the IGC has only had nominal-to-no authority at best up to this point when compared to Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, so they are not as independent of each other as they may seem. Brahimi's mere presence serves multiple roles. He's there to provide the international community with reasons to have confidence in the largely US-led transition to Iraqi "sovereignty", and he's also there, partially, as a statement to get the US to see the value of international, multilateral support for things like this.

The problem is that if the goals of the US and the IGC are pursued nakedly, then they will create questions about the legitimacy of the Iraqi transitional government and how the Iraqi people in general feel about it.

Hence, the Kabuki act.

Brahimi's role in the act is basically to look good. Marshall describes him as being "sidelined", which is about right. The main jostling and positioning in this act is between the US and the IGC.

In order for the US to get what it wants -- leaders that like them -- they need to build the perception that not only are they not in charge of the selection of new leaders, but also that the Iraqis are choosing their leaders in a way that is somehow contrary to American wishes.

That's why the Bush administration made a big deal about how it was "surprised", but happy with the selection of Allawi as Prime Minister. That's why the administration also floated the idea of the IGC selecting Adnan Pachachi, who's over 80, to be the transitional government's president, right before the IGC went ahead and picked Yawar, the current IGC president. (Pachachi is picutred here standing next to Laura Bush at this year's State of the Union address. Also note that Chalabi is standing right behind Laura.)

Luckily (well, not really luck) for the US, the IGC was originally created by the US, and to an extent, has been controlled by the US. It's clear that the IGC wants to pick from among their own, so to a point, the US is happy to go ahead and let them, without much concern that Al Sadr will be taking the oath of office anytime soon.

This is an uphill battle for the US, unfortunately, because perceptions of our occupation of Iraq, and the legitimacy of a transitional government "stands upon the edge of a knife", as Galadriel might say. It was the mismanagement of the war and occupation up to this point that has left us such a challenge. If we're to stay involved in Iraqi affairs into the forseeable future -- which we will -- then we don't have much of a choice other than to try this Kabuki act and hope.

Of course, when Iraqis notice this summer that their government has "full sovereignty", yet 150,000 American troops are walking around essentially negating any real power the new government has, we may have a whole new set of problems.


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