Irak, Medio Oriente y Asia
Plan de salida para Irak: Nuevos obstáculos
Steven R. Weisman
Claudia Cinatti, especial para PI
New York Times
Iraq Exit Plan: New Obstacles
Two weeks ago, the Bush administration settled on an "exit strategy" for Iraq in which the United States committed itself to establishing self-rule there by next summer — well ahead of its previous schedule and just as the American presidential election season will be getting under way.
But the administration's initial plan for that transfer of authority has fallen apart, raising doubts about whether the June 30 deadline for ending the American occupation authority in Baghdad is still feasible.
At stake is whether the administration can reconcile President Bush's desire for a speedy transfer of sovereignty to a friendly Iraqi government next year, with the need to have some sort of electoral process to ensure that government's validity in the eyes of Iraqis and the rest of the world.
The "process," agreed upon two weeks ago, amounted to less than an election. Instead, it was an elaborate arrangement to hold caucuses throughout Iraq and give the Iraqi Governing Council considerable oversight.
The administration's quandary sharpened this week when Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's senior Shiite cleric, laid down his own definition of a legitimate government. Nothing less than an election was acceptable, he declared — a demand the United States and the Governing Council are now having to weigh.
Other Shiite leaders supported the Ayatollah's formulation, knowing that Shiites — who make up 60 percent of Iraq's population and are better organized than other groups — would be the likely beneficiaries of an early national election.
The fundamental question now is whether the administration has left itself enough time to put in place a government that can survive, be seen as legitimate, and is acceptable to the United States.
"We're boxed in," said an administration official. "We have a highly difficult set of issues to deal with here. We can't settle for just anything that gets us out of Iraq."
American policy makers say it is not just the American election timetable that requires quick action to transfer power.
In Mr. Bush's Thanksgiving Day pledge in Baghdad, he vowed that American military forces "will stay until the job is done." But hostility to the American occupation is growing so fast, they say, that if Iraq does not become self-governing quickly, attacks on American forces could increase.
Running counter to the pressure to speed up the transfer is the concern that any future government of Iraq be seen as something that Iraqis have chosen. The 24-member Governing Council, handpicked by the American occupation, is not currently seen that way by most Iraqis.
Administration officials say that a national election is impractical in the absence of up-to-date voter rolls, but that a system of provincial and local elections, town meetings and caucuses might be acceptable to the Shiites.
One step the United States opposes is establishing the Governing Council as an interim government of Iraq.
Dominated by former exiles, the council is held in especially low regard by Sunnis in the center of Iraq, where much of the anti-American violence is taking place.
American experts say Sunnis are feeling marginalized by the American occupation because their main sources of power — the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein and the Sunni-dominated army and security forces — have been disbanded. Finding Sunni tribal and community leaders to work with has been difficult, occupation officials say.
"If we turn things over next July 1 to whatever slapdash conglomeration that is out there — let's say the Governing Council plus some others, which is what they want — you could have a civil war in Iraq come next November," an administration official said.
American policy makers also worry that, although elections are the most legitimate path to self-government, a vote held too quickly could be dangerous as well as impractical.
Some American policy makers fear that a nationwide ballot right now would bring out the most radical elements in the electorate, ready and able to exploit growing Iraqi resentments toward any candidates seen as favored by the United States.
Officials close to L. Paul Bremer III and his aides at the American-led occupation authority say his concerns about these problems led to the initial American decision to postpone the transfer of sovereignty to the end of 2004 at the earliest.
"It would be a disaster to have an election whose legitimacy was contested," said Noah Feldman, an assistant professor of law at New York University, who was a constitutional law adviser to Mr. Bremer earlier this year.
"Nobody wants Palm Beach County in Baghdad," Mr. Feldman added. "Historical experience also suggests that quick elections under postwar conditions elect people not dedicated to democratization. Simply put, if you move too fast, the wrong people could get elected."
Suddenly, earlier this month, that view shifted at the most senior levels of the administration in Washington. Mr. Bremer was summoned back for consultations, and a plan was worked out with the Iraqi Governing Council for what he called "a transparent, participatory democratic process" to choose a government.
"It was a document that looked like some treaty between the United States and the Indians in 1882," said Rami G. Khouri, executive editor of The Daily Star in Beirut. "To think they put this thing together in a couple of White House meetings with everyone in a panic mode, it's just humiliating."
Not only was that plan short of an election. But administration officials acknowledge that the Iraqi Governing Council is itself in some disarray.
While in Baghdad on Thanksgiving, Mr. Bush met four council members. But some in the Bush administration, harboring a certain distrust of the council, suspect its members of trying to disrupt any transition, and hoping to stay in power.
The most likely thing to happen now, an administration official said, will be for Mr. Bremer to try to broker a deal with the Shiite leadership for a system of at least partial elections to choose the new Iraqi government before June 30.
"It'll be hard to hold an election, but not impossible," said Mr. Feldman, the law professor. "But there is no solution here that does not have drawbacks."