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Without Any Real Power From U.S, Iraq Council Begins Meetings

by Peyman Pejman

New Iraq Leadership Picked By U.S. A Motley Crew
(IPS) BAGHDAD -- Less than a week into its formation, Iraq's new Governance Council is taking a few tentative steps that could indicate both the speed with which it will tackle issues and the tasks it is likely to pick in the short term.

These choices are also likely to determine the kind of reception the council will get from the Iraqi people, and whether they will give it any legitimacy.

Since it came into being Sunday, the 25-member council, which was hand-picked by the U.S. administrator for Iraq L. Paul. Bremer, has met daily behind closed doors, and issued short end-of-the-day statements to reporters.

It has taken ceremonial decisions such as dissolving Ba'ath era holidays, establishing a new one to mark the entry of U.S. forces into Baghdad, and forming committees to devise policies and procedures on governance.

The council has taken measures on foreign policy issues, but none so far to deal with daunting domestic issues such as unemployment, the economy and security.

The foreign policy decisions taken include sending a delegation later this month to represent Iraq at the United Nations Security Council meeting. The council also plans to send a delegation to Arab countries and to meet dignitaries seen as friendly to the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The country list includes Jordan and Syria. A meeting is being arranged with Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League. Another delegation is going to Europe in an attempt to raise the profile of the new council.

The reasons the council has not taken on domestic issues to begin with are apparently the same reasons that the Iraqi public has not afforded the council much approval.

"Yes, this council has limitations, but we will try to the best of our ability to increase its legitimacy and thus shorten the period of occupation," Seyyed Abdel Aziz Hakim, a council member said at the opening ceremony Sunday. He is the younger brother of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

Those limitations exist right now because the coalition forces, dominated by the 140,000 U.S. troops, control much of the country and make all decisions on the nature of everyday life for the country's 25 million people.

"I don't like this council for a number of reasons," Hatem Abdel Fattah, 25, a student at Baghdad University told IPS. "The first reason is that they have no actual power in dealing with issues that are important to us. How can they decide, for example, whether to pay salaries, or how much to pay or where we can work since our ministries are bombed. We know these are serious issues and that's why we don't take this council seriously because they cannot solve serious problems."

All would still not be lost if the U.S. gave up at least some of its primary powers to the council, and if the members can then show a successful track record in dealing with them. The powers the council gets is at the heart of the legitimacy issue.

"Look at the council members," says Fatima Mohammed Jasim, 45, a housewife and mother of two daughters. "They are mostly middle-age men who have lived most of the time outside Iraq. They are rich businessmen. What experience do they have in running a country? Government is not about money or being smart in business. It is about giving people the services they need. Which one of them has that experience?"

The extent of Bremer's willingness to cede power to the council to the satisfaction of either the Iraqi people or the council members is far from clear.

Having announced repeatedly in the past weeks that the Governance Council will have broad powers to run the country, Bremer was quick to remind reporters after a meeting with a delegation from the World Bank Monday that "we consider that the coalition has very broad authority to determine the direction of the Iraqi economy."

Bremer has made it clear on more than one occasion that while the Governance Council is welcome to give advice, he and his top advisors will take the final decision on many issues.

"Ultimately, we all recognize that the bar is very high for this council, much higher than it is for us," says a U.S. official here. "They are watched very closely and only time -- and our decisions -- will determine whether it will fly with the Iraqi people or not."

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Albion Monitor July 16, 2003 (

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