Special Council

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This past week, while anti-American forces continued to make life difficult for the U.S. in Iraq, France’s Jacques Chirac called again for a rapid switch to Iraqi self-governance, and Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi Governing Council (I.G.C.), swung by the United Nations to make the case for more Iraqi control of their country. President Bush told the U.N. that he’s in no rush to hand over power to the Iraqis. But even if he was, is the I.G.C. ready to take on more authority in the midst of Iraq’s chaos? And would Iraqis accept it?

The American-appointed 25-person council is just over two months old, and has been at the center of many critiques of Bush’s elusive post-war plan in Iraq. Criticisms range from, “it’s a useless, undemocratic, puppet organization,” to “it’s Iraq’s only hope but its mandate is too limited.” The Middle East Report Online has an extensive report on what the I.G.C. can and can’t do.

E.A. Khammas, the co-director of the Baghdad Occupation Watch Center and author Rahul Mahajan, of the newly formed website Occupation Watch, argue that the core problem with the governing council lies in its undemocratic origins. Their group has carried out a number of interviews with Iraq’s leading intellectuals and politicians, and published their findings in an op-ed for Middle East Online. Those interviewed feel that the Iraqi Governing Council has been handed an impossible task by the Americans. Professor Wisal al-Azzawi, dean of the College of Political Sciences of Nehrein University, wonders why the Americans didn’t consult Iraq’s leading professionals.

“Why didn’t they ask our opinion? What role was there for scientists, technocrats, intellectuals businessmen, unions? Because of the way it was secretly appointed, the Council appears very much an American product imposed on the Iraqi people…The democratic process does not happen in a day or two, and should not be connected to a handful of people who collaborated with the occupation.”

This kind of distrust is pretty typical in Khammas and Mahajan’s piece, and the authors ultimately recommend that the American authorities spend more time consulting with people like the professor.

It didn’t help the I.G.C.’s image with Arabs that the U.S. occupation authorities recently decided to bar Arab satellite TV stations Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya from riling the Arab world by spreading “poison” in their coverage of I.G.C. activities over the next two weeks.

It seems that the I.G.C. has few fans these days, particularly in the Middle East. However, Amir Taheri, of Gulf News thinks that those who find the council problematic are just whining about the loss of their beloved Saddam.

Clearly, this is a debate that will run and run. Less clear is whether the council will ever be more than symbolic, or whether it will ever be fully accepted by Iraqis.

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