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
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
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
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
is available online at