November 25, 2003

Some Members Propose Keeping Iraqi Council After Transition


New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 24 — Leaders of the Iraqi Governing Council, just days after vowing to dissolve the body when a new provisional Iraqi government is elected in June, are lobbying to stay in power and serve as a second legislative body, perhaps as a senate.

Many details remain to be resolved, and not every council member agrees with this idea. But Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader who is serving as president of the council this month, said in an interview on Monday evening that a majority of the council members "want to keep the Governing Council as it is now."

Some council members who oppose this idea say they believe that the proposal is being promoted by members who are afraid they may not fare as well as they would like in the coming elections. These members also fear that a fight to retain power for the council will be a public relations disaster for the nascent Iraqi state.

"This is from people who have a fear of losing a grip on things," said Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, an important tribal sheik and council member.

The proponents of keeping the council in some manner include leaders of its most important factions: the two major Kurdish parties, powerful Shiite clerics and prominent exile leaders, among them Ahmad Chalabi. Members like Mr. Yawar who oppose the plan acknowledge that they are in the minority.

American occupation authorities were "very surprised" when the idea was broached with them on Sunday, Mr. Chalabi said. On Monday, an American official said occupation authorities "have concerns" about the idea but declined to discuss it further. Iraqis said they were still in negotiations with staff members from the office of L. Paul Bremer III, the American administrator here.

The Governing Council was appointed in July under the direction of American authorities. It has been criticized as ineffective and inaccessible. Only a handful of the 24 members attend most meetings.

On Nov. 15, after intense negotiations with Mr. Bremer, the council's leaders jubilantly announced that a new interim government would be elected in June.

When that happens, Mr. Talabani declared, "the role of the Governing Council will come to an end." But "the next day," said Iyad Alawi, a council member, "people woke up and thought this was done in too hasty a manner."

Like several members interviewed, he said he opposed retaining the Governing Council, at least in its present form. But in the next breath, he added: "It's not realistic to just say goodbye to them. It's not fair to ask them to operate and ratify things and then just dismiss them."

Mr. Chalabi offered a spirited, multilayered defense of the idea, including the notion that: "We will make a security agreement with the United States, but this will not be binding on the new guys. When the Governing Council is gone, there will be voices that want to cancel it." But he also said, "I support the Governing Council going away."

Adel Abdel Mahdi, a representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the main Shiite Muslim political party, is among those designated by the council to negotiate with the American authorities. He said in an interview that he supported the proposal without reservation. "We need the Governing Council as a safety valve for the country," he said. "One idea we are proposing is for the council to become a council of state, the final judge of conflicts within the government, the guardian of sovereignty."

Mr. Chalabi is promoting the idea of turning the Governing Council into a senate, while the new interim government would resemble the United States House of Representatives.

Mr. Talabani said he would support that, but that he would prefer adding the council members to the transitional assembly that will be selected in the spring.

For some, it comes down to a matter of emotions. "The Governing Council is the force that opposed Saddam Hussein and, allied with the United States, overthrew him," Mr. Chalabi said. "Now the United States wants to overthrow us?" Mr. Talabani made a similar statement.

Mr. Yawar said: "They think they are entitled to a role because they believe they overthrew Saddam Hussein. It was the United States that overthrew Saddam while we were eating TV dinners."