When U.S. civilian administrator Paul Bremer unveils the new Iraqi transitional authority this weekend, there promises to be criticism from all sides, as it appears that the council is a mixed bag of people ranging from pro-democracy activists to representatives of groups with close ties to terrorists. Bremer will undoubtedly burnish his credentials as an independent operator, but some who are generally supportive of him worry that inclusion of some less-than-savory figures could damage his tough-on-terrorism reputation.
Since arriving in Iraq some two months ago, Bremer seems to have chartered his own course, avoiding much of the dissension that plagued his predecessor, Jay Garner. Wanting to assess the situation for himself, Bremer pushed back the timetable for various projects, including the creation of a new political leadership.
For those who worried that a career State Department veteran might hew to the Foggy Bottom party line, such fears initially proved unfounded. His first major move was a sweeping de-Baathification order, banning anywhere from 15,000 — 30,000 former Saddam loyalists from holding any public office, including at schools or hospitals. Given that Foggy Bottom officials had been placing Baathists in several key posts — Saddam Hussein’s personal physician was reinstated as president of Baghdad University — Bremer’s move was a slap in State’s face.
After a series of news stories shortly after the war indicating that the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress (INC) as becoming a force to be reckoned with in the post-Saddam Iraq, another series of news stories portrayed the INC as a group on the outs. The Washington Post had a front-page story reporting that Bremer had little use for the INC and exiles. If true, that would have meant that Bremer was\siding with his old Foggy Bottom colleagues on the question of political leadership.
Although Bremer has largely surrounded himself with officials from State, the civilian administrator appears to have established a substantial degree of independence from them. According to several people familiar with the names on the list of members of the new authority, the council contains a large number of exiles and Kurdish figures, including most of the leaders of the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress. But perhaps in a display of his independence, Bremer included on the list several names with which State officials are sure to be pleased, such as Adnan Pachachi, the octogenarian former foreign minister who is backed by the House of Saud.
According to several people who have seen the list, Pachachi is one of a number of people with uncomfortably tight ties to terrorism. When he was the foreign minister of Iraq in the 1960s, Pachachi was very close to the first generation of Palestinian terrorists. And after the Baath party had come to power, Pachachi refused to condemn the hanging of Jews in Baghdad in 1969. Pachachi’s primary support, in fact, does not come from inside Iraq, but from Saudi Arabia, whose petrodollars help fuel terrorism around the world.
But Pachachi is not the only figure whose possible inclusion has some officials concerned. The council — which will have anywhere from 25 to 29 members — is likely to include Ibrahim Jafari of the Dawa party, which is responsible for the 1983 bombing of the embassy in Kuwait that killed six and injured dozens. As with most terrorist organizations that develop political arms, Dawa has not renounced its terrorist past. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), another group with close ties to terrorists — specifically to the ruling mullahs in Iran — is also likely to have a seat on the council. The Iranian government is openly pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and its state newspapers are calling for the murder of American soldiers in Iraq.
The council also appears likely to include a handful of tribal sheikhs, people who prospered under Saddam’s rule by pledging allegiance to Baathists. Given Bremer’s laudable de-Baathification efforts, these tribal leaders hopefully will not have had strong ties to Saddam. But to some, that does not matter. As one administration official asks rhetorically, “Have Americans died so that we can empower Iraqis whose only claim to legitimacy is accident of birth?”
One possible bright spot on the council is Safia al-Souhail, who has dedicated her life to fighting Baathism. After her father was executed by Saddam in 1994, she fled. In the eyes of the State Department, that makes her just another “exile,” someone with less legitimacy than a tribal sheikh who remained in Iraq and offered loyalty to Saddam. Bremer’s inclusion of Souhail on the council would be yet another indication that he is avoiding some of the worst advice from State officials.
As with any political decision before it is officially made, the final composition of the transitional authority could change. If it does, Bremer might make some changes to keep intact his reputation for being tough on terrorism.
— Joel Mowbray is an NRO contributor and a Townhall.com columnist. Mowbray is the author of the upcoming Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America’s Security.