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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 July, 2003, 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK
Iraqis split on new council

By Jonny Dymond
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

Iraq's new governing council
Iraqis have little faith the council can be independent

Is the bottle half full or half empty? Given the state of Iraq it may sound like an inane question.

But the answer to the question might determine what you think of Iraq's first step towards self government, the new Governing Council.

In the 'half full' corner are the members of the council themselves; the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) which has pulled the council together; and the governments that desperately want to see Iraq emerge as a independent democratic state.

They point to the range of representation on the council.

For the first time, sitting together and considering the future of Iraq are Shia and Sunni Muslims, Kurds, Turkomen, Assyrian Christians and a number of exiles.

Mr Bremer has indicated that only in 'exceptional circumstances' will he veto the council's proposals

The council is heavily weighted toward Iraq's Shia Muslim majority, completely reversing the way that Iraq was run under Saddam Hussein.

And whilst the Kurds used to cut deals with Saddam Hussein when the mood took them, never have the two leading parties of Northern Iraq sat round the same table with other Iraqis.

Then there are the powers of the council. This was once to have been an advisory council - now it is called a governing council.

Policy powers

And it has some of the powers of an arm of government. It can appoint men and women to lead Iraq's ministries, hold them accountable and dismiss them.

It will also be able to propose policies to deal with a raft of Iraq's problems. Healthcare, the electricity supply, clean water and a functioning judicial system will all be high on the council's list of priorities.

There is almost a total lack of belief that the council will be able to act independently of its' American masters

And next year's budget also falls within the council's purview. Members will need to agree to the budget before it goes forward.

Operational security is excluded from the council's remit - that stays firmly the responsibility of the coalition forces.

The council's policy role is, strictly speaking, advisory.

The final say over everything in Iraq remains with Paul Bremer, the American leader of the CPA. But Mr Bremer has already indicated that only in 'exceptional circumstances' will he veto the council's proposals.

'Outsiders'

The above is what the optimists say.

The pessimists, which include many ordinary Iraqis and analysts, are withering in their criticism.

After so much talk of liberation, a council handpicked by the coalition forces was not what was expected.

For most Iraqis, the bottle is most definitely half empty

Talk of a wide range of representation is fine. But the whole body, as far as many are concerned, is tainted by the way it has been selected by the coalition rather than elected by the people.

Officials at the CPA stress the extensive nature of their consultations. In particular they point to the group of seven political parties that played a key role in drawing up the list of members.

The parties look representative - exile groups, Kurds, Shia Muslim parties.

But they are dismissed as outsiders by Iraqis, as people that spent the Saddam years outside Iraq whilst others suffered and struggled within.

Perhaps most damning is the almost total lack of belief that people seem to have that the council will be able to act independently of its' American masters.

Maybe it is the hulking presence of US tanks and armoured cars on street corners; maybe it is the vacuum in authority left by the collapse of a totalitarian regime.

But there is precious little faith amongst Iraqis that this council represents the beginning of an era of self government.

For most Iraqis, the bottle is most definitely half empty.


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