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[casi-analysis] Iraqi assembly: Democracy or pretence?

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With all eyes on Najaf at the moment, there has been little analysis
in the press of this process.

Given that the US decided to go after the militia in Najaf, and now
in Sadr City, without any particular event prompting them to, a cynic
might be inclined to assume that the timing was not accidental.

On reading the report below, I think that Kamil was understating what
has clearly been yet another enormous stitch up when he wrote: "a
problematic conference that is supposed to be a major landmark in
Iraq's new political arrangements".

The US/UK control security, the media, the economy, the political
process and just about everything else in Iraq. As a result, Iraqis
cannot act collectively and hope to prevail against a superpower.
Their only chance is if the people of these 2 countries so something
about their governments.

By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

After four days of often heated and fractious debate, a conference of
more than 1,000 Iraqis has chosen an interim national assembly.
The 100-member assembly, which will start work next month, will act
as a temporary parliament until elections due in January.

Some delegates cried foul
It finally emerged only after four days of debate, haggling and
confusion - constantly overshadowed by the crisis in the southern
city of Najaf.

Those who regard the process as a success insist that Iraq's early
steps towards democracy were always bound to be hesitant.

The often heated debates, they say, are proof that free speech now
reigns in a country only now emerging from more than three decades of

Critics retort that the process was deeply flawed - and the outcome a
far cry from the democracy they aspire to.

Who decides?

The Iraqis who gathered in Baghdad for the long-awaited national
conference on 15 August certainly reflected some of the diversity of
Iraqi society.

They included political, religious and tribal figures, members of the
country's different ethnic and religious communities, technocrats and
university professors, as well as women (with and without

Competition for places at the conference had been keen.

The assembly's role is essentially advisory - but given that the
current interim government is unelected, it would do well to heed the
assembly's advice

The delegates' task was to choose 81 members of the new assembly. The
remaining 19 seats had already been allotted to members of the now-
defunct Iraqi Governing Council.

A quarter of the seats were reserved for women.

What some of the delegates did not realise was that the 81 would be
chosen through a list system, rather than voted on individually.

Independents protested, claiming the country's main political parties
had stitched up the result in advance.

In the end, they were allowed to draw up their own list, only to
withdraw it at the last minute claiming they had been treated

In something of an anti-climax, the list put forward by the
conference organisers was approved without a vote.

Little guys come last

The idea of the national conference had been promoted by the UN
special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

He had organised the loya jirga, or grand assembly, which chose the
post-Taliban administration in Afghanistan.

The clear aim was to show, in the absence of elections, that a
political process was under way with a degree of popular

In the event, UN officials in Baghdad quietly distanced themselves
from the result. They had given advice, they said, but it had not
been their show.

The assembly, like the current interim government and before it the
Iraqi Governing Council, is dominated by the political parties which,
mostly from exile, formed the opposition to the Saddam Hussein

Smaller parties and independents are feeling squeezed out.

Limited powers

The assembly will not be a fully-fledged parliament.

It will not be able to pass laws, though a two-thirds majority will
have the power to veto government legislation.

The assembly will be asked to approve the national budget, and it
will appoint a prime minister or a president if either of them dies
or leaves office.

Its role is essentially advisory.

But given that the current interim government is unelected, it would
do well to heed the assembly's advice.

The lesson of the last few days is that, while Iraqis appear to
relish their new-found freedoms, the emergence of a new and credible
political leadership will be neither quick nor easy.

Mark Parkinson

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