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Managing the Vote at Home and Afar: Elections Without Sovereignty, Ready For Prime Time

Donald Paneth Feb 4, 2004

The fix was in when I dropped by the United Nations on Jan. 19. Television cameras, still photographers, and correspondents were ranged in a semi-circle about U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the U.S.-sponsored Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA); Jeremy Greenstock, U.K. special representative; and Adnan Pachachi of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).
Annan loves his job. Bremer is a functionary, recruited by Henry Kissinger. Greenstock fails the accent test; he sounds like he is from Brooklyn. Pachachi is well-fed, moon-faced.

Annan had just met with senior representatives of the IGC and CPA and spoke in his customary manner, soft-voiced and calmly.
“We covered a wide spectrum of issues,” Annan said, including the transitional political process, humanitarian relief, security and the recovery and reconstruction of Iraq
He had already dispatched to Iraq a four-man security team – two security experts and two bodyguards – to assess the situation. Should he return U.N. officials and international staff to Iraq? Was there sufficient security and enough time to hold countrywide elections in Iraq by June 30?

“The issue is whether the technical, political or security conditions exist for general direct elections to take place as early as May this year,” Annan said.

That was not the issue, I thought. The issue was what did the U.S. and U.K. want in Iraq. And how were they trying to achieve it.

History pointed the direction. From the 16th century to the early 20th century, Ottoman Turks ruled Iraq. During World War I, the British invaded Iraq, declaring that they intended to return to Iraq some control of its own affairs.

In 1920, Iraq was established as a mandate by the League of Nations under British administration.

An elected Iraqi assembly reluctantly agreed in 1924 to a treaty with Great Britain providing for the maintenance of British military bases in Iraq and for a British veto over legislation. The next year, the first oil concession was granted. That is the kind of situation that the U.S. and U.K. are seeking – the maintenance of their strategic position in the Middle East and control of Iraqi oil.

Annan is cooperating, and I thought, the U.N. is evaporating before my eyes.

On Jan. 27, he said in Paris that he had concluded that the U.N. could play a constructive role in Iraq. Therefore, once he was satisfied that the CPA would provide adequate security arrangements, he would send a mission to Iraq. The mission would search for alternate ways to form an Iraqi government.

Might the new Iraqi government be selected in caucuses? That proposal was opposed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a cleric esteemed by many Shiites in Iraq. Sistani was insisting on direct elections, and wants Iraqi experts, not ones from the United Nations, to determine the viability of direct elections.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi met in Washington, D.C. for undisclosed discussions with U.S. officials, among them, Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, and Condeleezza Rice, National Security Adviser.
On Jan. 30, Annan announced that he was sending a mission to Iraq to determine the feasibility of early elections.

The connection between the Iraq dilemma and the U.S. presidential election is manifest. President George W. Bush wants to be able to tell the American people to look at what his administration has accomplished – deposed and captured Saddam Hussein and brought the Iraqi people democracy and freedom.

As Ahmed Chalabi, an IGC member and Pentagon favorite, told the New York Times last November, “The whole thing was set up so President Bush could come to the airport in October for a ceremony to congratulate the new Iraqi government. When you work backwards from that, you understand the dates the Americans were insisting on.”

If Bush succeeds, special events will follow in 2005.