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After 30 June 2004: Sovereignty. 
But What Sovereignty?

A Crisis Papers Guest Essay
by Citizen Zed*

May 18, 2004


Right now, a dominant line of thinking concerning Iraq goes something like this. The situation there, if not fast declining, is not improving. No lasting progress on the security front could occur without handing the country back to the Iraqis. Sovereignty must therefore be transferred by 30 June 2004 to the interim government which is about to be set up under the aegis of the UN, a move which should have the effect of showing the world at large and demonstrating to the Iraqis themselves that the Coalition powers are determined to make Iraq a democratic nation, to ensure that Iraq will be governed by the Iraqis for the Iraqis.

The military route of combating terrorism and sabotage does not appear to work; the political route of occupation based on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the Iraq Governing Council (IGC) are not working either. Only the political route of restoring full sovereignty would and could be effective. The Coalition powers are not chickening out of a bruising and no-win situation through cowardice or irresponsibility. Instead the strategy is borne out of a political will on their part to be true to the two key objectives of the war, namely, to get rid of Saddam Hussein and to establish democracy for good in Iraq.

This projected scenario is re-assuring and certainly worthy of applause should it come to pass. But is the optimism justified? I wish to argue that it may not be, as it is underpinned by assumptions which, on closer examination, turn out to be flawed both on a theoretical as well as on a practical level. However, before I can demonstrate these flaws, one need to give a brief history of the main events and considerations leading up to the expected transfer of sovereignty in roughly six weeks' time.

First, the date of 30 June 2004 seems to be an immovable feast, a time-table said by pundits to be basically determined by the requirements of domestic politics in the USA, the major one being the presidential election in November. This calendar means that no direct elections could be organised, in spite of the fact that the leader of the Shia majority (perceived to be moderate), the Grand Ayatollah Ali-Sistani, has been calling for elections in January and February this year, a call which has since been taken up by the more radical younger cleric, Moqtada-al-Sadr. The reason given by Paul Bremer (the US administrator or pro-consul in Iraq) for rejecting direct elections is security; there is also the fear that such elections may return a fundamentalist Shia majority or extremists of some other hue to form a government. Sistani has asked the UN not to ratify the interim Constitution drawn up by the CPA as, in his opinion, it gives too great powers of veto to the Kurds. In his disappointment, Sistani has also turned to the UN to arbitrate on the matter of direct elections; however, the UN has come to the conclusion that direct elections could not be arranged by 30 June, thereby supporting the decision of the CPA.

The UN, via Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, its special envoy to Iraq, has now been charged with the task of constructing the caretaker government which is expected to come into existence after 30 June 2004 and which, at the same time, is scheduled to be dissolved following direct elections, anticipated to take place not later than January 2005. The UN is also setting up a national conference to advise the nominated interim government, and intends that the Security Council pass a new resolution to authorise a multinational force in Iraq after January 2005. The interim government will consist of a cabinet of 25, a ceremonial president and two vice-presidents. Officially and technically, it falls to Mr Brahimi to appoint its members. He has hinted that the top post of prime minister will go to a Shia, while the three posts of president and vice-presidents will be respectively Sunni, Kurd and Shia.

Whom will Brahimi co-opt and what procedure would he use to determine who is fit to be appointed? In April, he has said that it would comprise of "a small number of reputable and distinguished Iraqis - including prominent and respected judges - who are not seeking political office". In other words, he wants no politicians of any colour or people with political ambitions but "experts" of some description. However, note that the UN has no office and no presence in Iraq itself since its withdrawal from the country after the killing of its special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello. As a result, Mr Brahimi is unlikely to have any first hand knowledge about the present Iraqi scene and would therefore have to rely predominantly, even if not exclusively, on Washington and London. Surely, this would not inspire confidence in his appointees on the part of the Iraqis.

Recently, in early May, UN officials have also announced that full-page advertisements will soon be taken out in Iraqi newspapers inviting ordinary Iraqis to nominate candidates to be the electoral commissioner, an office charged with overseeing the process of elections expected to take place by January 2005. However, these ads will conspicuously fail to advertise the fact that the person who ultimately picks the winning candidate from the UN-drawn short-list on 31 May 2004 will be none other than Mr Bremer, the US pro-consul in Iraq - no ordinary Iraqi, he.
Is it wise for the UN to be seen to be so closely associated with the wishes of the CPA and Washington and to be carrying out their will? Ordinary Iraqis are no fools and would have no difficulty in detecting the intimate links between the UN and the occupying powers. Would they not conclude that the rhetoric of democracy and sovereignty sits badly with what is happening on the ground? However, to their horror, they would also realise, as it must be obvious to them, that bad as such a mismatch may be from the democratic standpoint, worse is in store for them under the UN-managed transfer of sovereignty.

The following brute facts are staring them in the face:

1. The caretaker government to come into effect after 30 June will be subject to the interim Constitution for which they, ordinary Iraqis have had no say, but which is the handiwork of Bremer and the CPA. The IGC, a body handpicked by Washington, containing several Iraqi exiles, including Mr Chalabi whom the USA had originally designated to run Iraq after the war, has endorsed the interim Constitution.

2. The caretaker government must continue to enforce whatever laws and orders had been already written by the Coalition powers: "The laws, regulations, orders and directives issued by the CPA ... shall remain in force".

3. The interim Constitution provides that such laws may only be altered by a three-quarters vote "by the Iraqi Transitional Government." But such a government would only come into being after the elections in January 2005.

4. The US has announced that it would be building 14 "enduring bases" in Iraq to accommodate between 110,000 to 150,000 US soldiers, although ordinary Iraqis have not been consulted in any way about their wishes on the matter. This democratic deficit, however, does not prevent General Mark Kimmit, deputy chief of operations in Iraqi to say that these bases are "a blueprint for how we could operate in the Middle East". (Watch out the rest of the Middle East.)

5. Bremer has issued an executive order to the effect that even after 30 June 2004 the Iraqi army itself will be answerable to the US commander Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, justifying such an arrangement in terms of the UN Security Council Resolution 1511 which has authorised US forces to be in charge until "the completion of the political processes" in Iraq.

6. The CPA is also going to appoint a national security adviser to Iraq, similar to that occupied by Condoleeza Rice in the White House, whose office will last 5 years.

7. Bremer has also at the end of March 2004 issued another law opening up the Iraqi economy to foreign companies which the incoming government after 30 June 2004 cannot change, under the terms of the interim Constitution.
8. Bremer will be putting in place several so-called independent regulators whose business it is to curtail the power of the Iraqi government ministries after 30 June. One example quoted by The Financial Times: the regulator would prevent the cancelling of licenses already awarded to foreign companies by the CPA.

9. On 31 January 2004, the CPA had negotiated with the IMF a loan of 850m, which would, no doubt, tie the hands of any Iraqi government thereafter to the economic re-structuring programme laid down by the lending body in question.

10. These latest moves on the part of Bremer reinforce Executive Order 39 of September 2003 which announced the wholesale privatisation of Iraqi services and industries with the exception of oil, gas and mineral, under the most favourable terms possible complete with repatriation of all profits by foreign companies, with tax holidays and trade tariff rollbacks. Nor will there be restriction on the use of local products. Earlier in May 2003, Bush has already signed Executive Order Number 13303, which confers complete criminal and civil immunity on all companies operating in Iraq, exempting them legally from the consequences of their activities in connection with the commercial exploitation of Iraqi oil.

11. In mid March 2004, at the Economic Forum on Iraq conference, a member of the IGC, to emphasise the significance of the measures just mentioned above, has assured potential investors that "(o)ur policies toward investments will not change in any form".

12. After 30 June 2004, the US government will continue to administer the $18.4bn reconstruction fund (or what is left of the sum) to be spent over the next 5 years in re-designing Iraq's infrastructure from electricity, water, oil, communication, schools, to even courts. (The only thing the Iraqis are permitted to run is their decrepit hospitals and health service, presumably with no or little resources.)

13. This extensive control and administration of the Iraqi economy and infrastructure will be overseen by the US embassy which will be one of the largest in Baghdad.

Ordinary Iraqis require no formal lessons in political philosophy to know that the reality confronting them after 30 June 2004 is a mockery of the claim that "full sovereignty" will be returned to them and that democracy is being instituted in their country by the USA and its allies via the UN. Nor would they be slow to spot the contradiction between two conflicting claims which Washington and London have made: on the one hand, they trumpet about handing back "full sovereignty to Iraq, but on the other, they admit that the new government will have only "limited authority".

Mahmoud Othman, a leading member of the IGC, has been reported in early May 2004 as saying: "How can you have full sovereignty with only limited authority?" "It sounds like a joke". Indeed it is a joke, and a very sick joke it is. I don't know whether Mr Othman has ever read Hobbes' Leviathan, but he certainly knows that the sovereign in a modern legal-rational state, as Hobbes had said more than four centuries ago, is that supreme body exercising powers which are absolute, illimitable and indivisible. Hobbes himself was no democrat, but the notion of democracy is perfectly compatible with his concept of sovereignty - indeed it is difficult to conceive of a dissociation of the two in this particular context.

It is true to say that a country without full sovereignty cannot be democratic, although one with full sovereignty may not be democratic. What is not logically possible is that a country with extremely "limited authority" or competence can be said to enjoy "full sovereignty" or that a country with "limited authority" in a situation where large areas of normal state activities are off-limits to the "limited authority" in question is a democracy. In other words, that body which determines what is off-limit and what is not as far as the "limited authority" is concerned is the body which exercises supreme, absolute, illimitable power; that is, to say that body precisely is the sovereign. Come on Bush, Bremer, Blair, Sir Jeremy Greenstock (Britain's special representative for Iraq from 2003-2004 - see his piece in The Economist, 8th-14th May 2004: 24-6). You cannot be that dim. Washington in Iraq remains the sovereign in Iraq after 30 June 2004 (unless some very unexpected but drastic changes are made to the set of arrangements outlined above), as it remains that supreme body to which the interim government with "limited authority" is subservient and subordinate. It is Washington through the instrument of the interim Constitution which permits and ensures that the interim government after 30 June 2004 would officially sign and ratify under the terms of international law those contracts already dished out by the CPA to Halliburton, Bechtel and others, as well as similar contracts to be handed out in the future.

Alas, these politicians and officials seem to have been taken in by their own spinning. They seem to believe that peace, stability, order and prosperity will break forth after 30 June 2004 when "full sovereignty" has been transferred to the interim government and when Iraq will be put on the course to democracy. Ordinary Iraqis, I'm sure, won't be bewitched by this word magic; they will see the truth for what it is, and will, therefore, continue to resist, to rebel and to fight those Iraqis in power with "limited authority" as well as those foreign power(s) who run(s) their country with real power and control over their destiny, at every level, whether political, economic or military. They will continue to call them "the occupying powers and forces" and will continue to see their country to be under foreign occupation. This is not a clarion call on my part to instigate ordinary Iraqis to revolt - it is simply an attempt to be clear-headed and to unfold the logic embedded in the latest instalment of the farce that is being acted out in Iraq.


*"Citizen Zed" is the pseudonym of a University Professor in the United Kingdom.

"Citizen Zed's" book, Fake and Farce: The War in Iraq, is available online at www.imprint.co.uk/societas


Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances