Don't Panic! May 06 2004

Your war questions answered

What is the significance of the June 30 "handover" date in Iraq?

June 30 is the date that the Coalition Provisional Authority (aka the United States) will hand over official control of Iraq back to Iraqis. In an elaborate ceremony on the evening of the 30th, Iraq's current leader, U.S. Administrator L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer, will hand over the instruments of power to a new Iraqi leader. Those instruments include a box containing a lot of maps, Iraq's PIN number, an ermine robe to wear when making important decisions, a couple of surge protectors, a magic eight-ball that answers in English, Arabic and Kurdish, and the biggest damned keychain you've ever seen in your life.

As a souvenir, Bremer will take home the "Parking for Iraq's Dictator Only" sign that he found outside one of Saddam's palaces and currently uses to adorn his Baghdad parking space. After the handover, the Iraqi Symphony Orchestra will play the "Crescent-Spangled Banner" or whatever their national anthem is, and there will probably be fireworks. To get Iraq's young people interested, Iraqi MTV will broadcast the event live as "Iraqi Sovereignty Jam 2004," with hosts Jimmy Fallon and Omar Sharif.

The government to which Bremer will hand over his box o' sovereignty has not yet been determined. The fellow who'll do the determining is U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. This isn't the first time that Brahimi has found himself in the thick of an Arab country's emergence from foreign occupation. Brahimi is Algerian. During his 20s, he was active in Algeria's struggle to break free from French colonial rule. Later, as a diplomat, he helped negotiate an end to Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s. More recently, he served as a U.N. envoy in Afghanistan. He was there from 1997 to 1999, and then again after we toppled the Taliban in 2001. He's credited by many with saving Afghanistan's constitutional convention earlier this year.

He's also former CNN hottie Rym Brahimi's dad. Rym Brahimi could have been Gulf War II's equivalent of Gulf War I's "Scud Stud" Arthur Kent except a) her hair always looked dull and lifeless when she broadcast live from Baghdad and b) well, does anyone actually watch CNN anymore?

Back to daddy. Lakhdar's plan for Iraq goes something like this. He wants to pick a president, two vice presidents, a prime minister and some mini-ministers to serve as Iraq's caretaker interim government until elections for a 275-member National Assembly can be held next January. He would prefer that the caretakers be technocrats, meaning people with technical skills and experience (ex. the finance ministry should be run by an economist or at least a very senior bank teller), rather than by slimy, power-hungry politicians.

That sounds like a great idea. Maybe we should try that.

Anyway, after the elections in January 2005, the National Assembly will elect a president and presidency council, who will then appoint a prime minister and a council of ministers. Later in 2005, there'll be a constitutional convention, followed by another election in December. By early 2006, this orgy of elections and appointments will likely result in every man, woman and child in Iraq holding at least three positions in the new government. The convoluted government structure is thought necessary to keep any one of Iraq's ethnic or religious groups from getting too strong.

The June 30 handover is the first step in the process leading to a fully free Iraq, let's hope, by 2006. But contrary to what anyone says, the June 30 handover is not, I repeat, is not a handover of sovereignty. The United States still will control a 130,000-soldier force in Iraq. That makes us the sovereign. Our soon-to-be ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, described it well when he said that, after June 30, Iraqis will have "a lot more sovereignty than they have right now."

Pentagon darling, power-hungry liar and Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi is opposed to Brahimi's plan because it pushes he and the Iraqi Governing Council aside. Chalabi's opinion of the plan isn't nearly as important as Shi'ite mega leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's. If he thinks that Brahimi's plan unfairly checks the power of the majority Shi'ites, he can fatally undermine it with one of those fatwa thingies that Muslim clerics are so fond of.


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