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June 3, 2004

US Seeks Iraqi Nod for Continued Occupation

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - The United States is seeking the approval of the new interim government in Baghdad for a joint UK-U.S. resolution that will legitimize the continuing military occupation of Iraq.

Iraq's newly-anointed foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, is due to arrive in New York later this week to voice his government's support for the UN Security Council resolution that claims to confer "full sovereignty" to Iraqis – even though foreign troops are not scheduled to pull out of his country until January 2006.

The continued presence of more than 150,000 troops in Iraq, who will not come under the authority of the interim government, reduces sovereignty to a farce, say UN diplomats and international experts.

The draft resolution, a revision of the original text introduced last week, also calls for the creation of a multinational force over which the new Iraqi government will have no authority.

This new force is expected to protect UN humanitarian workers and members of relief organizations involved in emergency operations in Iraq.

Both France and China, two-veto wielding permanent members of the Security Council, think the resolution falls short of giving full sovereignty to Iraq.

Ambassador Wang Guangya of China told reporters Wednesday that the restoration of "full sovereignty has not been fully reflected" in the revised resolution.

"The U.S. administration, echoed by (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair, has stretched the meaning of the word 'sovereignty' to breaking point," says James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International.

"In the case of Iraq, it doesn't really mean 'autonomous self rule' as defined in democracies, but joint U.S.-UK-Iraqi military administration under Iraq's ages-old feudal system. The fundamental requirement for any government – legitimacy – is missing," Jennings told IPS.

The appointment of a new interim Iraqi government, dominated by a 34-member pro-U.S. cabinet, was also skillfully manipulated by the United States to its own advantage, said Jennings, who has traveled extensively in Iraq on behalf of his humanitarian organization.

"The entire scenario looks suspiciously like it was scripted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)," he said. "The Iraqi people won't be fooled, but the American people likely will be," he said.

Jennings' views are shared by Middle East experts and UN diplomats, who complain that Washington used the United Nations as a "political cover" to advance its own agenda in Iraq.

Lakdhar Brahimi, the UN special envoy in Iraq, was under heavy U.S. pressure, to the point where he let himself be manipulated by the United States, says Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

"The UN's envoy's collapse under U.S. pressure giving into the U.S.-selected and U.S.-controlled Iraqi Governing Council's (IGC) choice in selecting the prime minister and other top officials of the interim government, shocked even those observers accustomed to U.S. domination of the world body," Bennis told IPS.

"There are now IGC members and their minions in all the top positions of the interim government, but with the illusion of international credibility providing a United Nations 'bluewashing' of the process," said Bennis, author of Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN.

The cabinet was presumably picked by the IGC in consultation with Brahimi. "But the hidden hand was that of Ambassador Paul Bremer (head of the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority)," an Arab diplomat told IPS. "The United States is clever enough to play the role of a skilful puppet master."

Last week, the U.S.-appointed IGC unanimously endorsed Ayad Allawi, a British-educated neurosurgeon, as the new prime minister. News reports from London and Washington said Allawi has had close links with both British and U.S. intelligence agencies.

The endorsement also took Brahimi by surprise, but UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan refused to concede that his envoy had been marginalized.

"It was never intended that the United Nations would go and appoint and impose a government on the Iraqis," Annan told reporters Tuesday.

"We had to discuss it with them, and given the circumstances and the factors on the ground, it is not surprising that you have a mix of people from the Iraqi Governing Council and from outside who are forming the government," he said.

"So, I think in a way Mr Brahimi has done exactly what he set to do, and the mandate that he was given in the beginning," Annan added.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice vehemently denied the charge that Washington maneuvered the appointments. "These are not America's puppets," she said, referring to members of the new interim government.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, U.S. President George W Bush said the United States had no role in picking the cabinet. The selections were made by Brahimi, he said.

But last week Brahimi himself hinted that he was working within certain limitations. "You know, sometimes people think I am a free agent out here, that I have a free hand to do whatever I want to."

Jennings said that "what is not clear at the moment is whether the Brahimi mission was compromised by U.S. interference."

But he argued that last week's showdown between two members of the IGC – Adnan Pachachi and Sheikh Ghazi Aji al-Yawar – over the interim presidency "was staged for the benefit of Iraqi public opinion."

The new president, he said, "may have been sincere in calling for U.S. troop withdrawals, but the fact that his is a largely ceremonial post leaves that in doubt."

"His thin protests of 'Yankee Go Home' may resonate well in Iraq but be shrugged off in Washington, as they were in Bush's press conference on Tuesday," Jennings added.

The revised Security Council draft resolution concedes that the presence of the multinational force in Iraq is at the request of the incoming interim government.

But at the same time it does not give the new government specific authority to terminate their military mission in Iraq.

(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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