After a brief, frenetic political battle between
the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority,
both parties on Tuesday named Sheikh Ghazi Al-Yawar president of Iraq's newly
formed interim government.
Yesterday UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi and U.S. administrator Paul Bremer
announced that they favored Adnan Pachachi for the presidential slot, while
IGC members strongly pushed for Al-Yawar. Those circumstances today forced both
Brahimi and Bremer to reluctantly endorse Al-Yawar, a choice Bremer strenuously
opposed on Monday.
With the move, Pachachi promptly stepped out of the running, and the Iraqi
Governing Council (IGC) enthusiastically supported Al-Yawar as the first president
of post-Saddam Iraq.
Iraqi reaction to the Sunni sheikh seemed to be a mix between guarded optimism
and customary skepticism. The unusual signs of hope may be attributable to the
reputation Al-Yawar has earned for highlighting and standing up against what
many see as U.S. attempts to undermine any movement toward true Iraqi sovereignty.
Also of note is Al-Yawar's strong tribal background, widely respected in Iraqi
Meanwhile, widespread skepticism seems to stem from the disastrous security
situation, continuing economic turmoil, the lingering lack of infrastructure
reconstruction in Iraq under U.S. occupation, and the limited amount of power
Al-Yawar's office will be granted.
Kabel Hassan, a 47-year-old tailor sitting across from a mosque on Rashid Street
in Baghdad today offered a typical, hesitant endorsement of Al-Yawar. "The sheikh
is suitable," Hassan said, "because he is tribal, he has good culture and reputation,
and knows what we need." But Hassan quickly added: "Our commerce is in a bad
situation and nobody has jobs because of the American-led IGC. I hope it will
get better with the sheikh, insh'allah [God-willing]."
In the lead up to this morning's announcement, the Coalition Provisional Authority's
(CPA) heavily-fortified "Green Zone" in Baghdad was rocked by several mortar
blasts over a period of half an hour. Later the Associated Press reported that
just after Al-Yawar accepted his new position, a car bomb was detonated near
a U.S. base in Beiji killing at least ten people.
While the political machinations were underway, a separate car bomb exploded
near the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party Headquarters in Baghdad killing
at least 3 people and wounding over 30, according to the BBC.
President Al-Yawar, 45, lived in exile in Saudi Arabia, where he studied at
the Petroleum and Minerals University beginning in the 1980s. He also studied
at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Born in Mosul, the civil engineer
is nephew to leader of the large Shammar tribe. Last year he was appointed to
the IGC, which was officially dissolved with Tuesday's announcement of the interim
government. Al-Yawar had taken over temporary Council presidency after the assassination
of Ezzidin Salim on May 17.
Al-Yawar has earned a reputation among Iraqis for standing up to the Coalition
Provisional Authority (CPA) when he felt it necessary.
One act that has earned Al-Yawar much respect from the Iraqi people was his
renowned initiative while negotiating with representatives from Fallujah during
the month-long siege of that city by U.S. Marines in April.
During a telephone interview with al-Jazeera television on April 10, Al-Yawar
was openly critical of the heavy-handed tactics employed by U.S. Marines in
Fallujah. "We called the coalition parties and informed them about our condemnation
and we expressed our surprise at these acts," Al-Yawar said. "We held them responsible
for what they are doing and also for the safety of the delegation." In the same
interview, Al-Yawar condemned U.S. forces for preventing food and medical aid
from reaching the suffering residents of Fallujah.
United Press International reported that Al-Yawar expressed his disagreement
with the UN resolution submitted by the U.S. and the UK late last month concerning
the political transition process and the fate of coalition forces in Iraq. Al-Yawar
was reportedly disappointed that the draft failed to grant enough control to
the Iraqi government over military operations by foreign troops.
Sattar Ali Mustafa, a 65 year-old Sunni man selling nargeela pipes in
Baghdad today expressed a familiar sense of alienation from the political process.
"We don't know the IGC so how can we know the new president?" he asked. Showing
concern over the state of the economy, Mustafa complained, "The situation is
so bad here; no water, no electricity, no security, so what can [Al-Yawar] do?"
However, like many other Iraqis, Mustafa demonstrated satisfaction with Al-Yawar's
tribal affiliations. "He is the sheikh of a tribe and that is accepted by us,
so I hope he can do a better job."
Much of Iraq's politics remain tribal, particularly in rural areas where tribal
sheikhs such as Al-Yawar often mobilize the population in line with the sheikhs'
own political loyalties.
At a café in central Baghdad today men played dominoes, sipped chai and shared
political opinions. Mohammed Ali, a 52 year-old retired police officer, says
he is relatively fond of Al-Yawar and hopeful about the new president's potential
to make a difference for Iraqis.
"The sheikh is an honorable man who I hope will bring us security and help
our economy," Ali said. "We all need jobs, Iraq is suffering too much. The coalition
has not done their job of bringing prosperity here like they promised. I think
the sheikh will help us very much until we can have elections. The Americans
did not come here to help – the last year shows us this."
The new interim government's primary responsibility will be to administer Iraq's
affairs, in particular by providing for the welfare and security of the Iraqi
people, promoting economic development and preparing Iraq for national elections,
according to Susan Phalen of the CPA Public Affairs Office.
The presidential role to be filled by Al-Yawar is ironically an all but powerless
one under the mandate of the interim government, rendering one of the only politicians
for whom Iraqis express significant respect a mere figurehead with no real ability
to affect the changes to which they aspire.
The plan, according to Phalen, is that the Iraqi interim government will take
power on June 30 and will dissolve when a transitional government is chosen
through democratic elections to be held no later than January 31, 2005.
U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin
Powell have joined President Bush in denying that there was ever a rift between
the IGC and Coalition authorities – and praising the UN for its part in shaping
the Iraqi cabinet, the BBC reported.
Bush referred to UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi as "the quarterback," and
said that Brahimi made important decisions to bring the names of the candidates
for the interim government to the table.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair also praised the naming of the new Iraqi
cabinet, while dismissing suggestions that a "puppet" Iraqi government was to
take power on June 30.
But other perceptions of yesterday's political turmoil differed from these
accounts. The general understanding presented by officials at the offices of
both Bremer and Brahimi was that Brahimi's word would carry the most weight.
The Governing Council, then, is widely seen as having used its final moments
to undermine Brahimi's role by taking the initiative to appoint top members
of the new government. Brahimi had said his intentions were to fill the interim
government with technocrats, but the IGC instead injected politicians with various
interests into key seats.
If president Al-Yawar is true to his word and decides to push for an end to
the occupation, as has been reported he will do when he feels the time is right,
Iraqis may come to view him as a strong opponent of U.S. control. But by most
accounts, Al-Yawar's lack of real power may render that opposition rhetorical,