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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Limitations on sovereignty in handover
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

American and British hopes that a handover of "sovereignty" to an interim government on 30 June might lead to stability in Iraq are fading fast.

Iraqi in triumph on burning US Humvee
The US's need for more Humvees is a telling indicator of the situation in Iraq

The Interim Government, more of a caretaker administration, will be politically very weak. It will not have sovereign powers, despite being described as "fully sovereign" in the law which is setting it up.

It will not be an elected body. It will last only until elections are held by the end of January 2005.

Its power to control security policy will also be in doubt since US, British and other forces will stay on as a multi-national force under an American general.

The US Secretary of State Colin Powell has suggested that the government would "give back" some of its sovereignty in the security arena; in other words it would not be in control.

The Coalition position is that 30 June will represent a real transfer of power, part of a process leading to a fully elected Iraqi government by the end of 2005. The symbolism of a formal end to the Coalition Authority should not be underestimated, it is said.

The immediate prospect however is that things will for some time continue after 30 June much as they are unfolding now.

The limitations of the interim government are as follows:

  • It will be appointed not elected
    The negative implications of this are recognised which is why the task of leading the formation of a government was given to the UN, in the person of its special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. But it will still be appointed and might therefore lack the ability to act as a rallying point for moderate Iraqis.

  • It will have no powers to make laws
    Article 3 of the law under which it will operate, the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), states: "No amendment to this Law may be made except by a three-fourths majority of the members of the National Assembly and the unanimous approval of the Presidency Council."
    Since the National Assembly and the Presidency Council are not going to come until elections by the end of January, this means that the interim government cannot change the status quo.

  • Laws and rules already made by the Coalition will remain in force
    Article 26 states: "The laws...issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority...shall remain in force until rescinded or amended by legalisation duly enacted and having the force of law." i.e. not until the arrival of a Transitional government next year which will have lawmaking powers.

  • It will not have controlling power over the Coalition forces which after 30 June will become the "multi-national force"
    This force will be under the command of a four star US general who will also control the Iraqi army. Article 59 of the TAL states: "The Iraqi Armed Forces will be a principal partner in the multi-national force operating in Iraq pursuant to the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1511 (2003).

Foreign Office officials in London said that there would be an annex to the TAL which would "clarify" some of the powers of the Interim Government. The annex, a spokeswoman said, would include the issue of security control. It was still under discussion, she said.

Brahimi plan

The UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has said that he wants the interim government formed by the end of May in order to give it time to prepare for 30 June.

His plan calls for an interim president with two vice-presidents (presumably these posts would be taken up by a Sunni, a Shia and a Kurd), a prime minister and a number of ministers. There would also be a consultative council with possibly 1500 members. This would act as a national forum for debate and reconciliation.

Mr Brahimi has suggested that the government should be made up of technocrats and that political leaders should concentrate on campaigning for elections which will be held by the end of January next year.

The timetable for the whole process is as follows:

  • Formation of Interim Government, hopefully by end of May

  • Handover to Interim Goverment and ending of Coalition Provisional Authority on 30 June

  • Elections to a 275 strong National Assembly hopefully by 31 December 2004 and no later than 31 January 2005.

  • The Interim Government will then hand over to a Transitional Government.

  • The National Assembly will elect a President of Iraq and two deputies, who will form a Presidency Council.

  • The Presidency Council will name a Prime Minister and a Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister will control the armed forces.

  • The Transitional Government will be able to pass and change laws. It will also be able to "conclude binding international agreements" about the multi-national force, which means that it should have some powers over that force.

  • A constitution will be drawn up by 15 August 2005 and voted on in a referendum by 15 October 2005.

  • Elections for a permanent government will be held by 15 December 2005 and the new fully representative and sovereign government will take office by 31 December 2005.

    The Humvee indicator

    A telling detail about the actual state of affairs on the ground is that the US army is making a world-wide search for armoured Humvees. This is not a war which is getting easier, therefore.

    At the moment, these ubiquitous vehicles are often soft skinned and are especially vulnerable in attacks on convoys. According to figures used by the Associated Press, of 15,000 Humvees in Iraq, only 1,500 to 2,000 are armoured.

    Some are even being made safer by having steel sheets fixed by local Iraqi workshops.

    The actions of soldiers carry more weight than the predictions of politicians.

    The BBC's David Willis reports from Baghdad
    "The situation remains delicate"

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