Friday, April 23, 2004

We're planning to hand over sovereignty in Iraq to, well, somebody on June 30th -- which made it rather remarkable that when Dubya was asked at last week's press conference, he didn't know to who. Well, maybe he's just got no reason to care:

The Bush administration's plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws, administration officials said Thursday. ...

Asked whether the new Iraqi government would have a chance to approve military operations led by American commanders, who would be in charge of both foreign and Iraqi forces, a senior official said Americans would have the final say.

"The arrangement would be, I think as we are doing today, that we would do our very best to consult with that interim government and take their views into account," said Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs. But he added that American commanders will "have the right, and the power, and the obligation" to decide.

Which, as some European diplomats note, may be a bit of a problem:

These diplomats, and some American officials, said that if the American military command ordered a siege of an Iraqi city, for example, and there was no language calling for an Iraqi government to participate in the decision, the government might not be able to survive protests that could follow.

But according to Juan Cole's expert testimony before the Senate this week,

I have to say that I read the Iraqi press in Arabic every day. My firm impression is that this is enormously popular among the Iraqis. That is to say they want a transition on June 30th. There's no faction in Iraq, on any part of the political spectrum, that would be at all happy with any kind of delay in this date.

To which his co-panelist, Toby Dodge, adds:

So, there is a build up of aspiration around June 30th that I suspect, in a pessimistic prediction, will then, when they -- when that popular opinion realizes nothing changes after June 30th, and things may well get a lot worse in the run up and the aftermath of that date, that exactly as you say, Senator, that goodwill or hope will be then frittered away, and the next dates will be even more difficult to move towards.

Is it too much to suggest that this disappointment could drive more people towards the resistance?

But there's one piece of good news in all of this. We don't have to worry about what our enemies in the New Iraq will say about the powerlessness of their nominally sovereign new government. They're already talking:

In the first sermon he has preached in the Kufa mosque since the outbreak of hostilities between his Mahdi Army and Coalition forces, [Muqtada al-Sadr] said that "These events have brought to light dirty tricks, and have made it possible to distinguish between the truth and falsehood. I say that they intend to stay for many long years and are strengthening their positions, and there is no use to truce negotiations with them." He added, "America does not distinguish between small and large [sins?] under the pretext of freedom and democracy, but what democracy is this, and what liberty? Do not let their words seduce you, for they claim that they are going to surrender sovereignty and form an [Iraqi] government . . . Some accuse me of having delayed the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis and the formation of a transitional Iraqi government. I say, yes, I have delayed the sale of Iraq and the planting of a lackey government . . .

If anyone in the Green Zone is wondering why their credibility among Iraqis is so low, compared to even a thug (albeit a bad seed from a good family) like al-Sadr, maybe it's because he's telling the truth and they're not.

Some of this news will come as no surprise to readers of liberal blogs -- more than a month ago, Nathan Newman spotted the clever wording in the "interim constitution" which prevents the interim government from changing whatever laws Bremer has imposed by fiat. But now that officials are testifying in Congress, so that our press doesn't have to go through the awful effort of reading things, it's good to see the New York frigging Times catching up.

See also Cole's reflections on another co-panelist, Richard Perle, still shilling for Chalabi. In the course of which, Cole reports that Chalabi was not only convicted of embezzling from a bank in Jordan -- he's on the lam from a ten-year jail sentence -- but lost support of the American State Department and CIA after being unable to account for several million dollars of their money. I did not know that.


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