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May 25, 2004

US Offers Iraq 'Sovereignty Lite'

by Thalif Deen

The United States and Britain are asking the U.N. Security Council to transfer political and administrative power to Iraq while holding back sovereign power that legitimately belongs to the Iraqi people, say critics of the move proposed Monday.

A five-page draft resolution, co-sponsored by the allies, calls for the formation of a "sovereign interim government" in Iraq and the creation of a U.S.-led multinational force (MNF) to provide security for U.N. personnel administering proposed elections in the occupied country.

But the resolution skirts the crucial issue of how much real sovereignty will be passed to the Iraqi people, whose country will continue to be militarily occupied by U.S., British and other coalition forces until 2005, or longer.

"There is no such thing as 'sovereignty lite,’" says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Being sovereign is like being pregnant: you either are or you aren't," Roth added in a statement issued Monday. "If the new Iraqi government (as envisaged by the U.S.-U.K. resolution) doesn't have ultimate authority and responsibility for the security of the Iraqi people, then it is not truly sovereign," he added.

Roth said the draft resolution is flawed for two reasons: not only will Washington continue to have final say on matters of Iraqi security, but the interim government will not be able to enact new legislation or overturn laws imposed during the U.S.-led occupation, which began after coalition forces attacked the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in March 2003.

"The whole thing is a sham," says Joan Russow of the Canada-based Global Compliance Research Project. "It would appear that the Security Council will cave in to U.S. and U.K. pressure to essentially absolve the two countries for their preemptive/preventive aggression against Iraq: an undeniable violation of the rule of international law."

"If the current resolution is adopted," she told IPS, "a dangerous precedent will be set – that the Security Council will overlook distortion of facts to justify intervention."

Jim Paul of the Global Policy Forum says the draft resolution only offers an excuse to provide "a certain legitimacy to the odious occupation of Iraq."

"The Security Council should really be calling into account the occupation of Iraq, not condoning it," Paul said in an interview. While the international community has overwhelmingly condemned the occupation of Iraq as illegal, "the United Nations is institutionally somehow agreeing to the legality of this occupation," he said.

There are two significant shortcomings in the draft resolution, argued Paul, whose group monitors U.N. policy-making. First, it "welcomes" the establishment of a "partnership" between the proposed multinational force and the sovereign interim government of Iraq.

The concept of "partnership," he said, clearly indicates a division of sovereignty between the multinational force and the Iraqi people. This is unacceptable – particularly if real sovereignty is to be restored to the people.

Secondly, added Paul, the resolution seeks the support of the international community to "condemn all acts of terrorism in Iraq."

"This identifies Iraqi resistance to military occupation as terrorism," he said. "Clearly, there are various acts of resistance by Iraqis which may seem acceptable by some. But the resolution tries to frame the entire resistance movement as a terrorist movement," he added. "This is intolerable."

Equally unacceptable, according to Paul, is the fact that the resolution does not provide a timeframe for the multinational force to end its mission in Iraq. "So if the Security Council in its wisdom proposes an end to the mission, the United States and Britain will have veto powers over any such proposal."

Besides the United States and Britain, the three other veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council are China, Russia and France. According to observers, they are unlikely to use their vetoes against the draft resolution primarily to avoid a fight with the United States.

Russow argued that adopting the resolution would also condone the violation of international law, including the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of prisoners and civilians during war.

Both the United States and Britain are under a storm of controversy for abusing prisoners under their care in Iraq (and also Afghanistan in Washington's case). Those shocking incidents, many captured on film and seen around the world in recent weeks, would violate the Conventions.

Russow argued that the decision on the U.S.-U.K. proposal should not be left to the Security Council.

The Millennium Declaration adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2000 contains a commitment to strengthen the role of the Assembly. "The time is now: only the General Assembly can prevent the United Nations from being discredited for establishing a dangerous international precedent," Russow said.

It is imperative that the Assembly hold a special session as soon as possible on the situation in Iraq and the future of the country, she added.

According to Paul, there are few prospects for countries to contribute to the multinational force proposed in the draft resolution.

"This is a time when countries are pulling out their troops and heading for the exit," he said. Spain, which withdrew its troops last week, will not go back under any circumstances, he added.

Germany, France, Canada and Russia have already announced they will not provide any troops – "no matter what kind of resolution is adopted by the Security Council," according to Paul.

The draft resolution also says that upon the dissolution of the U.S.-administered Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Jun. 30, the new interim government will have control over oil resources.

Since last year's invasion, the country has been run by the CPA headed by U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer.

The U.N. envoy to Iraq, Lakdhar Brahimi, is currently in Iraq negotiating with leaders of several ethnic and religious groups to form an interim government with a prime minister, a president and two vice presidents.

The United Nations has been entrusted in the resolution with the task of conducting nation-wide elections by December this year, "if possible, and in no case later than Jan. 31, 2005."

Despite the planned handover of power to Iraqis, the United States has said that its troops, numbering over 130,000, will remain in Iraq through 2005.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Thalif Deen has been Inter Press Service's U.N. Bureau Chief since 1992. A
    former Information Officer at the U.N. Secretariat and a one-time member of
    the Sri Lanka delegation to the General Assembly sessions, he is currently
    editor of the Journal of the Group of 77, published in collaboration with
    IPS. A Fulbright-Hayes scholar, he holds a Master's degree in Journalism
    from Columbia University in New York.

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