Iraqi council faces many hurdles
The Arab League declined this week to recognize Iraq's new Governing Council.
Like many Iraqi politicians, Yonadam Kanna has a flair for the theatrical.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
During a meeting over sugary tea in his spacious, well-appointed office, the member of Iraq's new 25-person Governing Council abruptly rises from his plush armchair. He steps into a back room, and returns gripping a three-foot- long sword.
"Don't be afraid," he says, his gray moustache curving mischievously. "This is the sword of Uday. He used it to cut women's heads off." In fact, "You are sitting in Uday's office," he tells a female visitor.
"I sent another sword to [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld to put in the US national museum to show people how criminal he [Uday] was," Mr. Kanna continues, referring to the late son of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The usually mild-mannered Kanna can be forgiven for a little victor's bravado. After repeated jail terms followed by two decades in the wilderness as an Iraqi opposition leader against the Hussein regime, Kanna relishes the irony of his new position: His Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) now occupies the sprawling Baghdad compound that formerly belonged to Uday Hussein's paramilitary group, Saddam Fedayeen.
"An empire of terrorists has collapsed," he says.
Still, the question for many Iraqis is whether Kanna's gusto will be matched by concrete achievements, as Iraq's fledgling Governing Council begins to create from scratch the framework for democratic rule in the nation of 24 million people.
The hurdles to genuine effectiveness by the council, which convened July 13, are many. First, it is an interim body approved by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which as the occupying force retains the ultimate decision-making power in Iraq.
Major international and regional groups, including the United Nations and - this week - the Arab League, have declined to recognize the Governing Council. Last month, the UN Security Council decided not to give the interim Iraqi body a seat. On Tuesday, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called the Governing Council "a start" but opted to withhold recognition until post-Hussein Iraq has an elected government.
Among the Iraqi people, the power of the body remains a question mark, interviews with residents suggest. On the extreme end of the political spectrum, some strident Shiite Islamic clerics have derided the Governing Council as a tool of American tyranny.
Finally, Iraq's very ethnic and religious diversity - reflected in the council's makeup - makes reaching consensus difficult for Kanna and others as they debate key steps in the transition to a permanent elected government in Iraq.
In one of its first major decisions, for example, the council failed after an all-day discussion late last month to select a single president. Instead, it established a rotating presidency, with nine different members serving for one month each in the order of their names in the Arabic alphabet.
"Maybe it would be better if we had one president plus some deputies," Kanna said, "but we are trying to keep the coalition together, so to keep our momentum we agreed on nine people who roughly represent the majority of the council," he said. "We did this for the sake of unity."