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Is there a "Carlos Westendorp" moment in Paul Bremer's future?


The Philadelphia Inquirer, ordinarily not a news leader, yesterday was first to describe an alarming report from the CIA's Baghdad station chief. The report, endorsed by CPA chief Paul Bremer, claims that most Iraqis now consider Americans to be occupiers, not liberators -- an estimate of the situation strikingly at odds with the publicly presented views of the Administration.

Today, the Inquirer further says that Bremer will present a series of options to the Iraqi Governing Council over the coming weekend in an attempt to force an accelerated transfer of power.

The problem isn't hard to identify. As the old saw has it, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Choose even the 25 best and brightest Iraqis, representing all communities, and the result will still be 25 Iraqis narrowly representing their own particular communities, not a reenactment of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

From the Inquirer report, by William Douglas and John Walcott:

Although Bremer publicly called the council "an extremely capable group of ministers," his private assessment and that of many other officials is less upbeat.

"There's not a one of them who's a true democrat, who represents much more than his own group's narrow interests, who has any support except from his own people," said one senior official, who also asked not to be named because his assessment contradicts the administration's public praise. "They squabble with each other about everything -- when they bother to show up at all -- and they've made about zero progress on the most important job, which is figuring out how to write a constitution and hold elections."

As today's New York Times explains, a constitution is out of reach because it would force the issue of who will hold power in the democratic Iraq of the future:
Members of the Governing Council said Wednesday that they had reached a consensus that writing a constitution and electing the drafters of a constitution as demanded by the powerful Shiite clergy would be too divisive at this stage. They are also increasingly frustrated with America's exercise of power... [and] favor the immediate formation of a provisional government, made up of the current Iraqi Governing Council, rather than elections.
Simply enough, any constitution that enshrines majority rule will be unacceptable to Sunnis, and any constitution that doesn't enshrine majority rule will be unacceptable to Shi'ites. No "Connecticut compromise" is in the offing, so the only answer is to defer the question by replacing the current IGC with a provisional government. Perhaps nobody will notice that it's the same group of individuals as before (now down to 24), just as incapable as ever of agreeing on anything.

But now that the insurgency has begun to accelerate, America's patience for these games has grown short. The Inquirer relates some of the options that Bremer plans to present:

  • Holding elections for a constitutional committee and a temporary chief executive similar to interim President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who is serving until elections are held next year.
  • Establishing an executive committee, perhaps composed of the members of the Governing Council and Iraq's cabinet ministers, to adopt an interim constitution that would make it possible to take a census and elect delegates to a constitutional convention within six or eight months.
  • Setting up a provisional parliament numbering 150. It would comprise 50 people elected locally, 50 appointed notables such as tribal elders, and an expanded Governing Council of 50. Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims favor such a move, but the powerful Sunni Muslim and Kurdish minorities fear it would allow the Shiites to dominate the constitutional gathering.
  • Temporarily reviving Iraq's 1932 constitution, which guaranteed free elections, minority rights, "freedom of conscience," and property rights and which made Islam the state religion in what was then a monarchy.
If these are the major options, which will the members of the IGC choose?

They probably won't choose Option #1, since the election of a constitutional convention would be likely to predetermine the results -- a majoritarian "Virginia plan" that puts the Shi'ites on top. Today's Financial Times also points out another reason why this wasn't tried from the start: who would get to play President? There is a reason that the ICG settled on a figurehead presidency that rotates between nine of its members (the two Kurdish leaders, three Sunni Arabs, and four Shi'ite Arabs, not coincidentally).

But the US has failed to come up with the right person to lead the process. "What we need desperately is a Karzai," the senior official exclaimed, referring to the Afghan president. "People are looking hard but there is not even a whisper of one."
So much for Mr. Ahmad Chalabi, who allegedly hasn't been seen in Iraq much lately.

Option #4, the 1932 constitutional monarchy, is probably too closely identified with Sunni rule on one hand and British imperial hegemony on the other. It also has an air of permanence about it. A recent Gallup poll of Baghdadis sponsored by the CPA found that 8% of respondents favored a return to this system. In the Shi'ite ghetto of Sadr City, just 4% preferred it.

(For the curious: a majority of Sadr City respondents preferred an Islamic government, which they presumably tended to interpret as Shi'ite; in the "upscale," more Sunni neighborhoods of Rasafa and Al Kharkh, respondents were evenly split between "parliamentary democracy" and an Islamic system of some description. Notice that none of these options gets directly at the main issue, which presumably is the point: the CPA is fishing for some idea or label that might have broad appeal, without making reference to the fundamental matters of communal power most at stake.)

The IGC might choose Option #2 or, under certain conditions, Option #3. Essentially, any plan that defers the issue and leaves no path clear to a resolution is most desirable. But no option is more appealing than the status quo, which is why the status quo has persisted so long. In the end, the IGC prefers not to choose.

Here's where Carlos Westendorp comes in. Back in February 1998, in another country splintered between three communities unable to compromise over power -- remember Bosnia? -- the Muslims, Croats, and Serbs were unable to decide on what national flag they would carry to the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The pre-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina flag had become identified with the Muslim center, while the Croat and Serb hinterlands owed their primary loyalties to their respective mother countries. Like Bremer in Baghdad, Westerndorp, then the International High Representative, came to Sarajevo with a menu of options: in this case, three candidate flags.

The news media reported that the three sides were unable to make a choice, so Westendorp simply imposed this turkey on the parties:


An apocryphal story later made the rounds. There's probably no truth to it, but I love it. It goes like this:

The parties had already had a chance to view and evaluate the choices. They didn't like any of them. Westendorp asked them if they could agree on Flag #1. They could not. He asked them if they could agree on Flag #2. They could not. He congratulated them on their choice of Flag #3.
Sooner or later, I figure Paul Bremer will be congratulating Iraqis on their new choice of leadership.


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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000111.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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