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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 21:08 GMT 22:08 UK
Just a beginning
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The new Security Council resolution on Iraq gives international approval to the handover plan but does not by itself mean that Iraq's problems are on the mend.
Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Iyad Allawi
Interim Prime Minister Allawi: just a start

The handover to an interim government is just one of several stages which Iraq has to go through before a fully elected government takes office by 31 December 2005.

This is the beginning. It is not the end.

It will certainly take some of the pressure off US President George W Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair because they are now able to argue that the occupation is formally ending and that the troops are remaining at the request of the interim government and under the authority of the United Nations.

The resolution, with its bonus of unanimity, has also usefully come in time for the G8 summit in the US state of Georgia which enables the West (and Russia) to show a united front after a long period of deep divisions.

'Little difference'

The United States and Britain hope that the critics will one day be confounded. They hope to look back on 30 June, the handover date, as the turning point.

The interim government is a green-zone phenomenon
Toby Dodge, Warwick University

But Iraq has a long, long way to go.

Toby Dodge of the University of Warwick, a critic of American and British policy in Iraq, said:

"I don't think we have reached a new stage with this resolution. There is no multi-multilateralism here. France and Russia are still not doing anything. They have just given a nod.

"I can't see the difference from before. The interim government looks like the governing council and will suffer from the same problems, lack of legitimacy and difficulties in delivering services.

"The interim government is a green-zone phenomenon."

The green zone is the sealed area in Baghdad from which the Coalition Authority and the Governing Council operate, as will the new government.

'Clear path'

On the other hand, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, looking far more relaxed in the House of Commons on Monday than he has for some time, was comparatively upbeat:

The result is, I believe, a competent, professional and broad-based government acceptable to the widest possible range of Iraqis
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"The result is, I believe, a competent, professional and broad-based government acceptable to the widest possible range of Iraqis and reflective of Iraq's diversity.

"There will be some difficult times ahead, but the path to a free and democratic Iraq is now clear." He admitted, though, that establishing law and order was the major problem:

"The biggest challenge which the new government of Iraq will face is to build security."

Note how the word "interim", previously always used to describe the new administration, is beginning to be dropped by Western leaders as they seek to build up its status.

Hands tied

So why is this the just the beginning?

Because this interim government-by-appointment will last only until elections by the end of January next year. Those elections will be a better test of how things are going.

Although technically sovereign, the interim government cannot in practice do a great deal, partly because the majority Shia did not want it to be able to take decisions in advance of an elected government.

It will struggle to cope with the insurgency and will have to rely on the foreign troops while trying to build up its own forces. It will not have a formal veto over those forces but since its agreement will be sought over security policy, it is unlikely that anything like Falluja will happen again.

Election challenge

Its other main task will be to prepare for the elections, after which it will disappear.

The elections in January will select members of a National Assembly. The Assembly in turn will choose a transitional government.

The transitional government will have more power and among its tasks will be the framing of a constitution, on the basis of which full elections will be held by December 2005 so that a proper government can be in place by 31 December 2005.

The end of next year will be the best test therefore.

It can be seen that the interim government is a staging post, not the destination.

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