Let’s Play ‘Sovereignty’!

Emulating the popular game show Jeopardy!, if the answer is “Iraq,” can you formulate the question?

Consider the following:

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer left behind 97 edicts telling the interim government and the Iraqi people everything from how to drive their autos and mandatory minimum sentences for carrying grenades and other weapons to electoral and economic laws and forbidding the death penalty. Among these edicts, Bremer created a special commission empowered to review the activities of political parties and candidates and to bar those who affiliate with militias, espouse hatred and terror, or violate other laws. Bremer also set the terms of office for the national security advisor, chief of intelligence, and the 33 inspector generals (one for each ministry) at five years, taking the incumbents well into the term of office for the government to be elected January 2005.

The Hague Regulations (1907) and Geneva Conventions (1949) pertaining to military occupation guarantee rights to inhabitants of occupied territories, restrict the actions of occupying authorities, and provide for the continuity of the legal code in place prior to occupation. When occupation ends for any reason, regulations introduced by the occupation authority also end.

UN Security Council Resolution 1546 (June 8, 2004) recognizes that the “sovereign Interim Government of Iraq” will assume “full responsibility and authority” in the governance of Iraq by June 30, BUT will refrain from “actions affecting Iraq’s destiny beyond the limited interim period until an elected Transitional Government of Iraq assumes office” in January 2005.

UN Resolution 1546 also “reaffirms the authorization for the multinational force (MNF) … established under resolution 1511 (03)” in that the 165,000 foreign troops are in Iraq at the request of the interim government to provide security until sufficient numbers of Iraqis can be trained and equipped for the army, police, and border control duties. The same resolution further grants the MNF “authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq.” Iraq can ask for a review of the mandate at any time (it will automatically be reviewed in June 2005), and the mandate will terminate not later than December 2005.

Approximately 150 U.S. civilians are to remain, scattered through the various ministries as “advisors,” for an indeterminate period of time.

The Occupation Beyond Sovereignty
Obviously, there is tension between Bremer’s 97 edicts – particularly those with appointment timelines or ones establishing new laws or sentences – and the Hague and Geneva conventions under which the application of occupation statutes end. Having been ceded “full sovereignty” by the occupation authority, the interim government must have the power to rescind or ignore any occupation edict – including the one specifying the procedure by which the interim government can legally disavow any edict.

Functioning as a further barrier to complete sovereignty is UN Resolution 1546, which imposes its own broad limitation: the interim government is to refrain from any action whose effects “on Iraq’s destiny” will extend beyond January 2005 when the Transitional Government assumes office. In itself, this language suggests that the U.S. and UK, the two countries that crafted the resolution, are using the UN as a surrogate for their continuing direct intervention in Iraq. By forbidding a supposedly sovereign government from acting, the resolution sets up the UN as an “international sovereign” whose pronouncements trump national sovereignty.

The practical result of complying with this section of the resolution would be wholesale drift. Iraq’s “destiny” will not wait for six months. It is being shaped today, tomorrow, and every tomorrow thereafter in all its aspects – social, political, cultural, economic, civic, and environmental.

In short, while accepting reconstruction help and security training and assistance from the international community, the interim government must set its own course and pace. It must create momentum for equitable economic and political policies that respect Iraqi culture and tradition but encourage the internalization of fundamental human rights and civil liberties for every Iraqi.

The remaining short-term U.S. objective in Iraq is to shift completely the front-line burden for security to Iraqis. Reasoning that a lower U.S./MNF profile ought to reduce the violence, Iraq’s interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, is eager to assume this responsibility as quickly as Iraqis can be trained and equipped. Similarly, the UN may find Allawi and his cabinet eager for Iraqi, not UN, solutions to other long-standing needs.

It is commonplace in Bush administration circles to assert that Sept. 11, 2001, “changed everything.” In reality, as 27 former diplomats and senior military commanders stated in late June, the fundamentals of life in the U.S. have not changed. So too, in Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s downfall and the country’s military occupation have had a mainly political effect, but the fundamental needs of life in Iraq remain – physical security, the end of violence, steady work for steady pay.

If the interim government is to succeed, it must be completely free – that is, sovereign – to set Iraq’s course, free from U.S. edicts and ill-conceived UN resolutions.

If Iraq is the answer, the question has to be: “Where do three sovereigns divide one sovereignty?”

This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus.