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[casi-analysis] casi-news digest, Vol 1 #12 - 3 msgs

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Today's Topics:

   1. Chinese media: US gives Saddam Hussein POW status (Dirk Adriaensens)
   2. U.S. Firm to Run Iraqi TV/National Newspaper (ppg)
   3. In Iraq, Timing is everything (Daniel O'Huiginn)


Message: 1
From: "Dirk Adriaensens" <>
To: <>
Subject: Chinese media: US gives Saddam Hussein POW status
Date: Tue, 13 Jan 2004 17:05:45 +0100

[ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ]

            Interesting articles from the Chinese press: http://english.peo=
            US gives Saddam Hussein POW status
            The Pentagon said Friday that it has decided to grant prisoner =
of war status to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein who is now in US cus=

            The Pentagon said Friday that ithas decided to grant prisoner o=
f war status to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein who is now in US cust=

            "The bottom line is that Saddam Hussein was the leader of the o=
ld regime's military forces, and therefore he was a member of themilitary, =
and he was captured. That makes him an enemy prisoner ofwar," Pentagon spok=
esman Michael Shavers told reporters.

            "It's unusual that you have such a high-ranking enemy prisoner =
of war. So I think we just wanted to make sure that we had carefully though=
t through all the ramifications," Shavers said.

            He said that the former Iraqi leader, who was captured by US fo=
rces on Dec. 13, is entitled to and is being given all the rights he has un=
der the Geneva Convention as a enemy prisoner of war.

            Agencies reports said that the decision on the status of Saddam=
 was finalized this week. This is the first time for the Pentagon to formal=
ly declare Saddam a prisoner of war since his capture.

            Speaking on Dec. 14, one day after Saddam's capture, US Defense=
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters said that the former Iraqi leader'=
s treatment "will be governed by the Geneva Convention."

            "He (Saddam) will be accorded the privileges as if he were a pr=
isoner of war," Rumsfeld said at that time.

      Why the US declaration of Saddam's POW status?
      The US declaration of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as an ene=
my prisoner of war (POW) on Friday has invited close attention from Chinese=
 media. The following excerpts are from commentaries published in Chinese n=
      Beijing Youth Daily: The US Government has retained a low-pitched pos=
ture towards the Pentagon's formal declaration of Saddam as a POW on Friday=

      The reasons why the United States has delayed making such a decision =
" although it was reluctant to do so " are based upon its weighing of the p=
ros and cons.

      First, the United States has been extremely worried that it would be =
burdened with the accusation of mistreating prisoners of war (POWs) given t=
hat the Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs stipulates that they are=
 entitled to humanitarian treatment and protection from the detaining count=
ry at all times.

      In fact, the White House has been under strong criticism from the int=
ernational community, especially the Arab world, since it made public Sadda=
m's photos after he was arrested by the US Army in December.

      Second, the United States was worried it would not squeeze any useful=
 information from Saddam if it confirmed the former president's POW status =
at an earlier time.

      Article 17 of the Geneva Convention states the detaining country shou=
ld not exert physical or psychological tortures upon POWs or gain informati=
on from them in a forcible manner.

      So far, Saddam has not released any useful information to the United =
States. The CIA believes that it would not gain a bit of information from S=
addam if he was confirmed as a POW.

      Third, the United States has consistently viewed Saddam as a politica=
l hot potato and was thus reluctant to take full advantage of the situation=

      Washington is well aware that whatever persecutions Saddam is subject=
ed to will irritate the Iraqi people. That also explains the position that =
the US officials expressed earlier that the United States would certainly h=
and him over to the new Iraqi Government.

      Fourth, the United States was worried that Saddam or his family membe=
rs would appeal for his deserved rights.

      Article 14 of the Geneva Convention on POWs states they should be abl=
e to meet with representatives of the International Red Cross, and that the=
ir personal dignity must be respected. But the United States has so far mad=
e no such arrangements.

      Fifth, the United States has been worried that Saddam's POW status wo=
uld cause a chain reaction. Washington has so far not granted similar statu=
s to thousands of detained armed personnel of Afghanistan's Taliban regime =
and Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network.

      Jiangnan Times: The reason why the United States declared Saddam Huss=
ein's POW status is that Washington has taken into consideration the follow=
ing elements.

      First, the United States has gradually lost its patience with Saddam =
Hussein after secret interrogations of the former Iraqi president over the =
past month.

      Washington clearly knows it would not obtain anything it wants from S=
addam no matter what kind of treatment he's subjected to.

      Second, it was revealed that Saddam possibly suffers from cancer and =
will not survive two years. That, if true, would mean that if Saddam dies i=
n US detention, the United States would unavoidably be suspected of mistrea=
ting him. The US declaration of Saddam's POW status, which the Geneva Conve=
ntion regulates, ensures against physical mistreatment. This would demonstr=
ate to the world that Saddam's possible death would have nothing to do with=
 the United States.

      Last, the fact that Washington has so far not found evidence that Sad=
dam was the mastermind behind a series of terrorist bombings targeted again=
st the United States also contributed to Washington's declaration of his PO=
W status.

      Beijing News: The United States" declaration of Saddam's POW status l=
eaves open the possibility of a war crimes trial by the Iraqis.

      Saddam's regime is accused of killing at least 300,000 Iraqis. He now=
 faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

      The 1949 Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war spell out that POWs=
 can be tried for crimes against humanity only by an international tribunal=
 or the occupying power, which in Iraq is the United States.

      But the current situation is that the new Iraqi authorities insist on=
 the right to impose a death penalty on Saddam while the US Government pres=
ents an ambiguous attitude on the trial issue.

      According to the Geneva agreements, Saddam should be tried only by a =
military court unless the existing laws of the Detaining Power expressly pe=
rmit the civil courts to try a member of the armed forces of the Detaining =
Power in respect of the particular offence alleged to have been committed b=
y the prisoner of war. Under no circumstances whatever shall a prisoner of =
war be tried by a court of any kind which does not offer the essential guar=
antees of independence and impartiality.

      In such aspects, the United States could try Saddam in a US court. Al=
so the impartiality of an Iraqi trial would be questioned.

      Yet trying Saddam in a US court is not in the interests of the United=
 States. It will not satisfy some Iraqis and is not good for the social sta=
bility in Iraq. US judicial procedures will prolong the term and are good f=
or follow-up work. And pressured by the United Nations and world community,=
 the US court could hardly give Saddam a death penalty while an Iraqi trial=
 will make it a domestic issue that the international community shall not i=

      In fact, high level US officials have publicly expressed their suppor=
t for a death sentence.

      The United States on the one hand is appropriating funds for trying S=
addam, and on the other hand is training legal workers in Iraq for war crim=
es litigation.

      The Iraqi rules on establishing a special court also include articles=
 that authorize foreign legal experts to participate in the trials.

      In sum, the US declaration of Saddam's POW status is primarily a poli=
tical gesture. The United States could hand Saddam to the Iraqi court in ot=
her forms due to the distinctiveness of this case, which is in no conflict =
with the Geneva agreements.

      As a POW, Saddam's future still uncertain
      Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been declared an enemy pris=
oner of war, but is still resisting pressure to help his American interroga=
tors after three weeks in custody.
      Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been declared an enemy pris=
oner of war, but is still resisting pressure to help his American interroga=
tors after three weeks in custody.

      The former dictator, captured almost a month ago, is being given all =
the rights due him under the Geneva Conventions on enemy prisoners of war, =
a Pentagon spokesman said on Friday.

      The prisoner of war status means Saddam must be treated in accordance=
 with the Geneva Convention. The status grants the International Committee =
for the Red Cross access to Saddam and makes the former president eligible =
for a war crimes trial.

      The Geneva agreements say POWs can be tried for crimes against humani=
ty only by an international tribunal or the occupying power, which in Iraq =
is the United States.

      How good for a POW"
      The International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors the adhe=
rence to the conventions in conflicts across the globe, has been trying to =
arrange for a visit with Saddam.

      According to Article 17 of the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war a=
re not required to divulge anything more than their name, rank, date of bir=
th and serial number, and may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unp=
leasant or disadvantageous treatment to force more information from them.

      Some critics say the video of Saddam undergoing a medical exam soon a=
fter his capture " images broadcast around the world showing the once-feare=
d leader with matted hair, a beard, and opening his mouth for inspection " =
may violate the conventions" prohibition against humiliation of a prisoner.

      Also, Saddam's classification as a POW means that he can be tried onl=
y under the authority of occupying forces, which might require a US militar=
y trial. That would interfere with US plans to turn the former Iraqi leader=
 over to an Iraqi war crimes tribunal. The US plans to transfer sovereignty=
 to a provisional Iraqi government by July 1.

      Also, a Pentagon official said if new information came to light about=
 Saddam, provisions within the conventions could lead to changes in his sta=

      For example, if it was found that Saddam lead the post-war insurgency=
, he might be considered a terrorist leader and not eligible for POW status=

      How is Saddam now"
      According to British officials, the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Br=
emer, told Tony Blair in Basra last week that Saddam was being treated gent=
ly in an effort to coax him into talking, but that he was "not offering inf=
ormation of an operationally useful kind."

      "They are taking their time, trying to get him to talk so that he can=
 feel comfortable that he can talk in captivity," a British official report=
ed him saying.

      But Blair was told that documents found in a briefcase in the house n=
ear where Saddam was found had helped the US forces to track Iraqi insurgen=
ts. The results of his capture were "greater than expected," Blair was told=

      War crimes trial"
      The US" declaration that Saddam Hussein is a prisoner of war gives hi=
m certain protections, but leaves open the possibility of a war crimes tria=
l, the International Red Cross said on Saturday.

      The main burden for determining legal procedures for Saddam rests on =
the United States, said Ian Piper, spokesman for the Geneva-based Internati=
onal Committee of the Red Cross.

      "It is the requirement on the occupying power and the detaining power=
 to establish the judicial procedures if there is going to be any sort of t=
rial," Piper said.

      The decision by Pentagon lawyers to treat Saddam as a prisoner of war=
 makes little difference to Saddam's immediate rights as a detainee.

      "The area of crimes against humanity and war crimes is an entirely di=
fferent matter." It's an area of international law which has been evolving =
since the Allied trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg after World War =
II, said Piper.

      The Americans "have obligations to clarify the situation and for due =
process to eventually take place," Piper said.

      "But it is their responsibility to announce at some stage what proces=
s of law is going to be applied to prisoners of war in their hands, includi=
ng Saddam Hussein."

      Iraqis disappointed
      Iraqi officials expressed fears that a Pentagon decision to confer pr=
isoner of war status on Saddam Hussein will prevent them from putting the o=
usted leader on trial.

      US officials in Baghdad sought to assure Iraqis that no deal was made=
 to keep them from trying Saddam and that Iraq will have a "substantial lea=
dership role" when he finally faces justice.

      "There is no need for concern by anybody because the ultimate designa=
tion (of Saddam's status) will be determined down the road," Dan Senor, a s=
pokesman for the US-led occupation authority, told reporters on Saturday.

      "I am surprised by this decision," said Dara Nor al-Din, a former app=
eals court judge and member of Iraq's US-backed Governing Council. "We stil=
l consider Saddam a criminal and he will be tried on this basis."

      Iraq's justice minister, Hashim Abdul-Rahman, called the Pentagon com=
ments "mere views" and insisted that Iraqis themselves would determine Sadd=
am's fate.

      "It is a political decision, not a legal one," Abdul-Rahman said.

      Senor, however, sought to play down the significance of the Pentagon =
comments. The US says Saddam's government killed at least 300,000 Iraqis, i=
ncluding thousands of Iraqi Kurds in a poison gas attack in 1988.

      However, no Red Cross representatives have yet seen Saddam, whom the =
US says is being held in a safe location. Iraqi officials say he is being h=
eld in Baghdad.

      On the streets of the Iraqi capital Saturday, some Iraqis speculated =
that the Americans were trying to deny Iraq the chance to try Saddam for fe=
ar he would expose secret contacts between Washington and Baghdad.

      Handing Saddam back
      Bremer, said handing Saddam over to the Iraqis could take place after=
 July, when the Coalition Provisional Authority hands power to a provisiona=
l Iraqi government.

      In an interview with the London-based al-Hayat newspaper, Bremer said=
 the process of forming a court to put Saddam on trial in Iraq was "extreme=
ly complicated and requires international standards."

      Bremer denied reports that Saddam was drugged when he was captured. H=
e added that Saddam recognized neither him nor US military commander in Ira=
q Ricardo Sanchez when they met him following his capture in December.

      Geneva Conventions
      The 1949 Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, endorsed by 191 na=
tions, including the United States, spell out legal and other rights of pri=
soners of war which the International Red Cross say apply to Saddam Hussein=

      Concerning the treatment of POWs, the convention in general requires =
the detaining power to give POWs the same legal treatment it gives its own =

      Article 84 of the convention says a prisoner of war shall be tried on=
ly by a military court, unless the existing laws of the Detaining Power exp=
ressly permit the civil courts to try a member of the armed forces of the D=
etaining Power in respect to the particular offense alleged to have been co=
mmitted by the prisoner of war.

      In no circumstances whatever shall a prisoner of war be tried by a co=
urt of any kind which does not offer the essential guarantees of independen=
ce and impartiality. Article 99 goes on to say that no moral or physical co=
ercion may be exerted on a prisoner of war in order to induce him to admit =
himself guilty of the act of which he is accused. No prisoner of war may be=
 convicted without having had an opportunity to present his defence and the=
 assistance of a qualified advocate or counsel.

      Meanwhile, Article 101 states that if the death penalty is pronounced=
 on a prisoner of war, the sentence shall not be executed before the expira=
tion of a period of at least six months.

      Iraqi authorities disappointed as Saddam declared POW
      Iraqi authorities expressed their astonishment and disappointment Sat=
urday after the United States declared former Iraqi president Saddam Hussei=
n a prisoner of war (POW) nearly one month after his falling into the hands=
 of the US forces.
      Iraqi authorities expressed their astonishment and disappointment Sat=
urday after the United States declared former Iraqi president Saddam Hussei=
n a prisoner of war (POW) nearly one month after his falling into the hands=
 of the US forces.

      The Iraqi authorities said they fear this might give Saddam some lega=
l rights and immunity according to the Geneva Convention, which might preve=
nt him from being tried inside Iraq for the alleged crimes against the Iraq=
i people.

      A spokesman for the Pentagon said Friday that the Defense Ministry ha=
d decided to consider Saddam Hussein a POW because of his former position a=
s the general commander of the Iraqi army.

      This announcement put an end to the ambiguity of the legal status of =
the ousted Iraqi president since his capture on Dec. 13.

      "The Pentagon decision only serves the Americans' interests, who will=
 take his confessions and information," Mahmood Uthman, a member of the Int=
erim Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), told Al Arabia space channel.

      "Iraqis want to know those who helped Saddam to commit his crimes and=
 obtain weapons of mass destruction," added the IGC member.

      Hashim Abdul Rahman, the Iraqi minister of justice, described the dec=
ision as "political not legal", saying "Iraqis are the ones who should deci=
de Saddam's position when they receive the case."

      "One of the conditions for the POW is that he is caught in the battle=
 field, otherwise if he flees the battle field and is caught later, he is n=
ot considered a POW," said Malik Dohan AL Hassan, president of the Iraqi As=
sociation of Barristers.

      "Iraqis want to try Saddam for crimes that took place long before the=
 arrival of the American forces to Iraq, which is trying him for the period=
 since he assumed power till the time he fled the army," said Dohan.

      "Thus considering Saddam a POW means that he is a military man, and i=
f he had fled the battle then it is a great treason and he should be punish=
ed according to the Iraqi military law, which is execution for treason and =
desertion," added Dohan.

      In the streets, some Iraqis said the Americans denied Iraqis' right t=
o try Saddam because they (Americans) do not want to reveal the secret conn=
ections between Washington and Baghdad in the period when they were on good=

      "I think that Americans don't want to hand Saddam over to the Iraqis =
because they are afraid of uncovering the secret connections of Saddam with=
 the US or their friends," said Mohammed Hassan, a 45-year-old shop owner i=
n Baghdad.

      "I feel that Americans want to save Saddam after all the services he =
gave to the west. He divided Arabs in confrontation with Israel, threatened=
 the neighboring countries, brought the Americans to the region, and handed=
 Iraq to them," he added.

      "We demand that Saddam be tried in Iraq for his crimes against Shiite=
 and Kurds. I wonder why the US considers him a POW in stead of handing him=
 over to the Iraqis to try him for the years of his rule," said Haider Abdu=
l Ameer, a young Iraqi citizen.

      Abo Alaa, a 69-year-old retired schoolteacher, said Saddam should be =
tried outside Iraq because the proper conditions are not available.

      "Some of the parties that appeared lately will not be fair in trying =
Saddam," he said.

      "Trying Saddam in Iraq might lead to some disturbance among Iraqis wh=
o support him and those who oppose him," continues Abo Alaa, "considering S=
addam a POW prevented the parties who want to terminate Saddam at any cost,=
" he added.

      Abdullah Ahmad, a 38-year-old resident of the restive city of Falluja=
, showed no interest in the subject.

      "considering Saddam a POW will not change anything because Saddam is =
not the issue," he said.

      "He is only an Iraqi leader and no matter how many mistakes he made h=
e would still be Iraqi, and I think the invaders are not acceptable substit=
ute," he said.

      Source: Xinhua


Message: 2
From: "ppg" <>
To: <>
Subject: U.S. Firm to Run Iraqi TV/National Newspaper
Date: Tue, 13 Jan 2004 14:39:45 -0500

U.S. Firm to Run Iraqi TV
Harris Corp. Also to Operate National Newspaper
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 12, 2004; Page A13

The Pentagon has awarded a $96 million contract to a U.S. communications
equipment maker to run Saddam Hussein's old television and radio network,
now called al-Iraqiya, for the next 12 months, the chairman of the company
said last week.

Harris Corp., based in Melbourne, Fla., will operate the national newspaper
formerly run by Hussein's son Uday, in addition to running the broadcast
network, said Howard L. Lance, chairman of the company.
When Hussein's government fell in April, the state-run broadcast stations
and newspaper were seized. In the months since, they have been run by a U.S=
defense contractor, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC).

Under SAIC direction, the stations have not drawn viewers and listeners
because their content was considered too pro-United States. In addition,
there has been turnover in the non-Iraqi management and turmoil within the
Iraqi staff, many of whom were holdovers from the previous dispensation. Th=
day before Hussein was captured last month, 30 Iraqi reporters and producer=
were fired, and al-Iraqiya did not get the news of his arrest on the air fo=
almost 24 hours.
Lance said last week he and two partners hope soon "to have up and running =
high-quality news and entertainment network."
The partners are the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. (LBC) and a Kuwaiti
publishing and telecommunications company, Al-Fawares. Harris will manage
the project and supply the equipment. LBC will be the source of the
electronic programming and will conduct training.

Running the newspaper and training its journalists will be handled by
Al-Fawares, which publishes a newspaper in Kuwait and prints Newsweek in

Although the Pentagon contract runs for a year, there is some question abou=
what will happen to the newspaper and stations -- collectively known as the
Iraq Media Network (IMN) -- when the Coalition Provisional Authority turns
over sovereignty to a new Iraq government, scheduled for July 1. Lance said
last week he did not know what was going to happen, but he pledged to make
the network a "high-quality" organization, whether it becomes state-run or
remains under Pentagon control after July.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee=
recently voiced concern about the U.S. media program in Iraq and
specifically about the IMN. He has told the White House he expects the Stat=
Department to take responsibility for supervising the IMN after July 1.

"We don't want U.S. taxpayers paying $100 million for some new Iraqi
government over there to take over," Mark Helmke, a senior aide to Lugar on
the committee, said last week. "The chairman wants to make sure that the ne=
contract leads to an independent, free press."

Dorrance Smith, a former ABC News producer and an adviser to President Bush
and President George H.W. Bush, works in Baghdad as a senior media adviser
to the coalition authority. He recently added the IMN to his
responsibilities, according to Washington and Baghdad government sources.
Smith's first job in Iraq was to create a 24-hour television feed for local
U.S. television stations, bypassing the networks, which U.S. officials
complained were emphasizing negative news from Iraq.

The former Hussein network is not the only Iraq media project being run by
the U.S. government. The authorities, using money generated by Iraqi oil
sales, are working to set up an FM radio station south of Baghdad within 30
days to compete with local religious broadcasters. It is the latest move in
the broader, sometimes faltering, effort to present the viewpoints of the
United States and the provisional authority.

The U.S. regional coordinator for south-central Iraq is looking for a
contractor to build the station, to be housed in a religious university at
Al Hillah. The FM outlet will provide "a means of promoting CPA aims and
coalition information," along with "democratic education, vocational
education . . . [and] public service broadcasting services," according to a
request for proposals published recently. The CPA would "identify Iraqi
personnel for training" at the station, the request said.

The proposed Al Hillah university station has drawn bids from companies in
Cyprus, Sweden, Germany and the United States. It is not the only one
planned in the region, which one official described as "a hotbed of Shia
religious activity." There has been talk of possibly placing another one in
the local women's center to give women a voice, a CPA official said

Meanwhile, the U.S. board that runs the Voice of America and Radio Sawa, an
Arabic-language entertainment and news channel, is moving to set up
land-based television broadcast stations in Baghdad and Basra. They will
carry the programming of its new Middle East satellite channel, which is se=
to begin operating next month.

In its recent contract proposal, the Broadcasting Board of Governors said i=
is "particularly noteworthy that the urgent establishment of BBG TV
broadcasting systems in Iraq is a top U.S. government priority." The board
said it wants the Baghdad station running by the end of next month and the
Basra station operating by March 22.

  =A9 2004 The Washington Post Company


Message: 3
Date: Tue, 13 Jan 2004 23:28:39 +0000 (GMT)
From: Daniel O'Huiginn <>
Subject: In Iraq, Timing is everything

Foreign Policy In Focus
In Iraq, Timing Is Everything
By Ronald Bruce St John | January 13, 2004

The Bush administration, in the mid-November Agreement on Political
Process signed by L. Paul Bremer for the Coalition Provisional Authority
and Jalal Talabani for the Iraqi Governing Council, came face to face with
the fundamental issue in Iraq. In the pursuit of democracy, does the
United States work out a process and a calendar that fits Iraqi needs or
one that dovetails with the logic of the 2004 presidential election?
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the White House opted for the latter.

At first glance, the agreement is a positive step, providing for a
three-stage transition to a sovereign Iraqi government. The devil is in
the details. Key clauses in the agreement make implementation difficult,
if not impossible--and may hamstring future prospects for a united,
democratic Iraq .

In the first stage, the Iraqi Governing Council, in close consultation
with the Coalition Provisional Authority, is to draft and approve before
end-February 2004 a Fundamental Law, setting forth the scope and structure
of a sovereign Iraqi transitional administration.

This will prove a daunting task for a Governing Council that has yet to
metamorphose into an effective decisionmaking body. Many of its members
are former exiles with little legitimacy and no popular local
constituency. Iraqis also criticize the upfront involvement of the
Coalition Provisional Authority, arguing that popularly elected
representatives should decide the framework of a new Iraqi government.

The second stage of the agreement provides for the .election. of a
Transitional National Assembly before end-May 2004. In the third stage,
this assembly will elect an executive branch and appoint ministers to
constitute a provisional government. If this aggressive schedule can be
met, the new government will assume full sovereign powers for governing
Iraq by end-June 2004, symbolically ending the U.S. occupation months
before the U.S. presidential election.

While the agreement calls for the election of members to the Transitional
National Assembly, there is no mention of popular elections. Instead,
assembly members will be selected by caucuses--not a direct vote--in each
of Iraq 's 18 governorates. Under the plan, the participants in the
caucuses will have to be approved by 11 out of 15 members of an organizing
committee selected by the Governing Council and the members of
U.S.-appointed councils at province and local levels.

The selection process is all too reminiscent of the ill-fated approach the
U.S. used to appoint neighborhood, district, and city councils in
mid-2003. Meant to be the vanguard of democracy in Iraq , these local
councils have performed unevenly, at best. Most have no budget, no
authority, and no power. Paid by the Americans and often ignored by the
Governing Council, local council members are often dismissed by fellow
Iraqis as impotent lackeys of the occupation force.

Criticism of the Plan
The U.S. plan for the creation of a sovereign Iraqi administration has
been criticized by Shi'ite leaders, especially Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, Iraq 's most powerful Muslim cleric. The ayatollah has also
called for a fundamental law that recognizes Iraq as an Islamic state and
ensures no Iraqi law will be permitted to conflict with Islamic law. While
he does not want clerics running the government, Ayatollah Sistani wants
Islamic law to be the law of the land.

Shi'ite leaders have tremendous clout in Iraq . Selected by the people,
some observers have suggested Ayatollah Sistani is the sole legitimate
force in Iraqi politics today. The Shi'ite calls for direct, popular
democracy are difficult for the White House to ignore because they are
exactly what the Bush administration has said it wants to bring to Iraq .
Shi'ite spokesmen favor direct assembly elections in mid-2004, arguing
direct elections are more realistic and will increase the legitimacy of
any future government.

American authorities resist the idea of national elections, arguing a
detailed census followed by preparation of a voter roll would be
time-consuming and vulnerable to manipulation and violence. The Ministry
of Planning responded to their concerns in early November 2003 with a
detailed, 10-month plan to count Iraq 's entire population and create
voter registration lists, opening the way for national assembly elections
in September 2004. To date, American planners have rejected this
relatively quick census plan as still too slow.

Critics of the latest American plan emphasize that direct elections would
also reduce dissatisfaction with Governing Council performance. The
council has become a symbol, not of unity, but of the ethnic and sectarian
divisions within the country. And it threatens to institutionalize a form
of confessional politics, similar to the failed system that produced the
Lebanese civil war. Given the council's lack of popular support, Iraqis
are rightly concerned with a caucus process in which the Governing Council
can have a significant impact on the outcome.

The creation of a sovereign Iraqi transitional administration touches on
the future identity of Iraq as a state and a nation. The Shi'ites have
demanded national elections, which will almost surely bring them to power
since they constitute approximately 60% of Iraq 's population. The Sunnis
and Kurds, both minorities with some 20% of the population each, fear
elections would lead to Shi'ite domination, further marginalizing them.

The Challenge
The difficult challenge facing the Coalition Provisional Authority is to
help the Iraqis create a constitution that fairly and democratically
balances the role of the Shi'ite majority with the Sunni and Kurdish
minorities. The agreed upon solution must be acceptable to Iraq 's
neighbors and be granted legitimacy by the United Nations if it is to
endure. The design of the fundamental law and the method chosen to form
the Transitional National Assembly are critically important to this total
process because they will establish precedents for representative
government in Iraq .

The Bush administration, wrongly focused on a speedy transfer of
sovereignty to a friendly Iraqi government, has its priorities upside
down. The real priority in Iraq today is an electoral process that ensures
a legitimate government, valid in the eyes of Iraqis and the rest of the

The White House is concerned a summer of electioneering in Iraq, followed
by elections in the weeks before the U.S. presidential election, could
reinforce the American public's image of conflict and confusion in Iraq,
making it difficult for President Bush to declare victory in what has
become the central issue of his presidency. On the contrary, Washington 's
real concern should be that a hasty turnover of power next July to
whatever slapdash body is formed could result in civil war by November.

What needs to be done? The declared goal of the Bush administration is to
create in Iraq the most democratic government in the Arab world. To
achieve this goal, the occupation authorities need to listen to all
Iraqis, involving as many as possible in the creation of a durable
democratic system. This means forming alliances with moderate Shi'ite
groups, reconstituting Iraqi army units, involving the international
community, and organizing elections for a provisional government.

The sooner the Governing Council is replaced by a more representative,
independent, and legitimate government, the better. If the Bush
administration takes the time to do the job right, President Bush might
just end up with the victory in Iraq he so desperately wants--and needs,
in spite of himself.

(Dr. Ronald Bruce St John is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy in
Focus ( and the author of Libya and the United States: Two
Centuries of Strife (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002).)

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