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U.S. talk about "Iraq sovereignty" - finally exposed as the fraud it is

"sharp limits on that sovereignty in many vital areas, particularly security matters"
WASHINGTON, June 1 The new caretaker government in Iraq was hailed Tuesday by President Bush as ready to assume "full sovereignty" after June 30. But its first job, according to American officials, will be to negotiate sharp limits on that sovereignty in many vital areas, particularly security matters.

Less than a month before the scheduled transfer of power, it remains unclear exactly how much power will be transferred.

The continued presence of nearly 140,000 American troops, and American diplomats in the ministries of the new government, virtually ensures that significant power will remain in American hands. To some, the limits that are emerging are so constraining that they make a mockery of the process.

"It's a charade," said a diplomat at the United Nations, where a resolution blessing the interim government has been proposed by the United States. "The problem is that you need a charade to get to the reality of an elected government next January. There's no other way to do this."

Questions about Iraq's real sovereignty are bound to deepen, according to many diplomats, now that it has become clear that the United Nations special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, played a secondary role in setting up the new government.

People close to the envoy say the choices, especially that of the prime minister, Iyad Allawi, were essentially negotiated between the United States and the Iraqi Governing Council, which the occupation authorities put together last year. "The visible role of the Iraqi Governing Council in choosing its own successors in Iraq is more than was anticipated," an American official acknowledged in something of an understatement.

A European diplomat said the choices announced Tuesday reflected a "very distressing" set of developments. "It's clear that not only the U.S., but also the U.N., have ambitions for Iraq that are lower and lower by the day," he said.

As for "full sovereignty," American officials have said decision-making authority over security matters will be shared. But according to a second draft of an American and British resolution for the United Nations Security Council on Iraqi sovereignty, circulated among Council members on Tuesday night, the United States security mandate would extend to December 2005, after a constitution had been approved and a permanent government put in place.

Difficult security questions, like whether Iraqi forces can refuse to join in an American military operation, are left for future negotiations.

Confusion over sovereignty extends beyond military matters to questions of legal immunity for Americans, accounting practices, treatment of prisoners and oversight of government ministries.

Americans in the military and in private business now enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution and liability in Iraq. But some lawyers say the issue will have to be renegotiated once sovereignty is restored.

In addition, American officials say from 110 to 160 American advisers will be layered through Iraq's ministries, in some cases on contracts signed by the occupation, extending into the period after June 30.

A senior State Department official said each Iraqi minister, not each adviser, would define the powers the advisers would have. "The ministers can ignore them, take their advice or fire them," the official said. "They go only where they are wanted."

But a French diplomat said it was not certain that the Iraqi ministers would have such broad authority, given that most reconstruction funds would come from the United States and international donors.

Other Iraqi leaders have criticized the American draft for its strict outside auditing requirements on expenditures and on the collection of oil revenues.

Under current rules, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the Arab Development Bank supervise an "advisory and monitoring board" that is supposed to keep tabs on Iraq's revenues and expenditures. Some Iraqi leaders complain that the board imposes intolerable limits on their autonomy.

American officials say the board is necessary because there are still many legal claims around the world, dating from the Saddam Hussein era, and the board protects them from being seized in a lawsuit.

Another large issue looming for the interim government is the status of the laws decreed under the Iraqi Governing Council, which dissolved itself on Tuesday. Principal among them is the Transitional Administrative Law, which provides for religious freedoms and for certain powers guaranteed to the Kurdish minority.

Administration officials assert that the transitional law, developed under the supervision of L. Paul Bremer III, the American occupation administrator, remains in force.

"The law doesn't expire with a new government coming in, any more than the laws passed under the Clinton administration expired when the Bush administration came into office," said a State Department official.

Kurdish leaders say they, too, expect that the previously enacted law will remain intact. But some experts say no law enacted under a foreign occupation and its handpicked local leaders will have standing after June 30.

A United Nations official noted, for example, that the transitional law had not been incorporated into Washington's Security Council draft. The official said it had been omitted at the request of Shiite leaders, who dislike its protections for the Kurds and contend that it marginalizes Islamic family law.

"It's not clear how the status of the transitional law will end up," an administration official said. "Stay tuned."

Still another matter to be decided, administration officials acknowledge, is the status of thousands of Iraqis to be detained by American military authorities even though many of them have not been charged with any crimes.

It is not clear that Iraq will have a say in deciding whether they are to be detained, or whether their families will be able to go to Iraqi courts to set them free.

"There are international norms that may apply," said a State Department official. "But this is another matter that legal experts from both sides will have to work out."

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