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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
Humvees more telling than 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 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 to which moderate Iraqis can easily rally. 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 plan 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 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
    This problem is 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 that alone will not resolve the issue.

  • 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 Presidential Council."
    Since the National Assembly and the Presidential 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    Article 26 states: "The laws...issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority...shall remain in force until rescinded or amended by legalisation duly enacted and having the force of law."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 probably 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.

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.

You could take the path which leads to a new Iraq, a peaceful, democratic Iraq
Paul Bremer

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

The US Administrator Paul Bremer recognises the risks. In a speech to Iraqis on 23 April he said:

"You could take the path which leads to a new Iraq, a peaceful, democratic Iraq, an Iraq of political freedom and economic opportunity, an Iraq where the majority is not Sunni, Shia, Arab, Kurd or Turcoman, but Iraqi.

"This is the path to a bright and hopeful future.

"Or you could take the path which leads to the dark Iraq of the past where violence and fear rule, where power comes from a gun, and where only the powerful and ruthless are secure."

Fears of break-up

At best, it will be a long haul. At worst, Iraq might break up.

In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state
Ambassador Peter Galbraith

This idea is already being floated by some American thinkers.

Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who closely involved in ending the war in the Balkans which split Yugoslavia up, says in the New York Review of Books: "In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state."




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



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