WASHINGTON, May 8 — The Bush administration is pressing the United Nations envoy to change his proposal for a transitional Iraqi government once self-rule is returned on June 30, Iraqi and administration officials say.
Instead of a government that is nonpolitical, the administration is pushing for one that gives prominent roles to people with ties to political parties, the officials say.
The officials said the new thinking in Washington reflected doubts that a transitional government of technocrats would be strong enough.
Leading Kurdish and Shiite political figures, many of them members of the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, have pressed for the change, administration officials said. These figures are clamoring to hold on to power after the council is dissolved June 30.
In particular, the administration is said to be wedded to a large role for Adnan Pachachi, the former foreign minister who has guided the process of writing Iraq's transitional constitution, and to figures tied to political groups loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite cleric.
"The government is going to have both technocrats and people of political stature," said a senior administration official. "It's important to have both sides in the government."
In Iraq on Saturday, insurgents backing a rebel Shiite cleric took the offensive in two southern cities against British forces, acting to seize government buildings and striking at convoys. The move suggested that a new front was opening in the confrontation between the militias of the cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, and American and British troops, after days of American attacks.
Only two weeks ago, the administration embraced the proposal of Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy to Iraq, that the government consist of technocrats, though a top official cautioned then that some political presence could not be ruled out. Now the administration is insisting on such a presence, officials say.
The administration agrees with Mr. Brahimi that whoever joins the government should not make long-term commitments or reach any decisions that might benefit the parties they represent. "The structure should allow political balance at the top," said one official, along with "competence and efficiency as the quality for the ministers who run things day to day." This official said, "People generally think that anyone in the new government should not run for office later on."
American, European and United Nations officials say the establishment of a new government has become extremely difficult because of the mistreatment of some Iraqi prisoners and the continuing American military actions in Falluja, Najaf, Karbala and elsewhere.
"We're at a point where the more it looks like the new Iraqi government is led or directed by the United States, the less legitimate it will look," said a prominent European diplomat. "But if we give too much responsibility to the United Nations, the knives will be out for them, too."
The makeup of the new government is to be decided in the next week or
two by Mr. Brahimi, in consultation with L. Paul Bremer III, the
American administrator in Iraq, and Robert D. Blackwill, a White House
adviser serving as a special envoy of
Dr. Hafidh is said still to be a possibility for that job, but other candidates are being put forward by Kurdish and Shiite leaders, with particular interest focused on another minister who is a prominent Shiite Islamist, Adel Abdul Mehdi.
Mr. Mehdi is described by some Iraqi officials as unacceptable to Sunni leaders, who are said to fear that he might try to impose Islamic law over family matters.
Iraqi officials who have been in close contact with Washington say the parties that will have to be represented in the caretaker government include the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which has close ties to Iran, and Dawa, another influential Shiite group. The Communist Party is also likely to be represented, they said.
It was not clear, however, whether Ahmad Chalabi, a Pentagon favorite who has accused Mr. Brahimi of trying to marginalize him and other former exiles, would be included in the government. Despite his mostly favorable standing at the Pentagon, administration officials say, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, military commanders and Mr. Bremer all oppose a role for Mr. Chalabi in the government.
"The Shia and Chalabi have been running quite a campaign against Brahimi, and against any idea that the Iraqi Governing Council will be eclipsed," a Western diplomat said. "I don't think it will be eclipsed." As the diplomat put it, Mr. Brahimi had not yet figured out how to accommodate Shiite interests close to Ayatollah Sistani, which is considered essential to maintaining legitimacy, without angering restive Sunni.
The latest timetable for setting up a government is for Mr. Brahimi to pick the leaders by the end of this month and have them in place in early June, so they can begin to negotiate with the American occupation officials and others about several matters to take effect on June 30, including the exact role the Iraq government will play in its security.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to define that role, but disagreements have already emerged, with France and Germany suggesting that the Iraq government have at least some control over its own armed forces, and the United States suggesting that the Iraqis serve under American command.
The American plan is for the Security Council to declare that all forces in Iraq are part of a United Nations-mandated multinational security force under United States command. But it is not clear that Russia and other Security Council members will be ready to go that far, many diplomats say.
There are also questions about whether the United Nations, rather than the United States, will have the larger role in advising the new government on where to spend reconstruction money, and about such matters as whether American military forces are to remain shielded from prosecution by Iraqi courts, and whether there should be an international role in running Iraqi prisons. Diplomats say it will be important to hear from Iraqi leaders themselves as the United Nations confronts a new Security Council resolution — another reason why jockeying is under way over whether the Iraqi government is political or technocratic in nature.
The government structure proposed by Mr. Brahimi, widely accepted by the United Sates and other countries, calls for a prime minister to serve as the main power, and a president and two vice presidents in ceremonial or advisory capacities, representing each of the three main groups — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Mr. Brahimi has also pressed for a national conference of Iraqis after June 30, with 1,500 people choosing a smaller "consultative council" to serve as a kind of legislature — though with no legislative power — advising the government and ministers. But Iraqi officials say that this idea is being resisted in many parts of Iraq, and that the Iraqi Governing Council, which Mr. Brahimi wants to dissolve, is still jockeying to serve as a legislative body after June 30.