Like a Bat Out of Iraq

In a move highlighting the severe threat the insurgency poses to security in Iraq, chief U.S. administrator Paul Bremer formally transferred sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government two days early.

The "near secret" ceremony was attended by just "a half dozen Iraqi and coalition officials held in the heavily guarded Green Zone." The acceleration of the transfer date was "an apparent bid to surprise insurgents and prevent them from trying to sabotage the step toward self-rule." President Bush -- in Turkey for a NATO summit -- "marked the transfer with a whispered comment and a handshake with British Prime Minister Tony Blair." After handing a few legal document to Iraqi chief justice Mahdi al-Mahmood, Bremer immediately "left Iraq on a U.S. Air Force C-130."

But the early handover does not change the reality on the ground -- Iraq's newly-sovereign government is beset by a growing insurgency, faced with enormous political challenges, and tasked with taking over the management of a tumultuous transition.

Before flying off into the sunset, Bremer "issued a raft of edicts revising Iraq's legal code." The new rules -- which will be difficult, if not impossible, to overturn -- will "restrict the power of the interim government, and impose U.S.-crafted rules for the country's democratic transition." Controversially, Bremer empowered an appointed electoral commission to "eliminate political parties or candidates." Another last minute edict gave "U.S. and other Western civilian contractors immunity from Iraqi law while performing their jobs in Iraq" -- a provision that outraged many Iraqis because it "allows foreigners to act with impunity even after the occupation." Bremer also capped the tax rate at 15 percent, amended an industrial-design law to protect microchip designs, and stipulated the use of car horns be permitted in "emergency conditions only."

In a positive development, NATO leaders "tentatively" agreed to help provide training for Iraqi security forces. But the Wall Street Journal reports that details of the agreement remain elusive, "threatening to undermine the impact of a diplomatic victory for President Bush." Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) -- in Istanbul with the president -- conceded that no one knows the extent of the NATO commitment. There is still concern within NATO -- which already has forces in Afghanistan -- "about NATO's ability to sustain several operations at once."

However, a new report by Christian Aid -- a non-profit that seeks solutions to poverty -- reveals that Bremer left Iraq "without having properly accounted for what it has done with some $20 billion of Iraq's own money," accumulated from oil sales. The actions of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) appear to violate U.N. resolution 1483, which mandated that "Iraq's oil revenues should be paid into the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), that this money should be spent in the interests of the Iraqi people, and [that it] be independently audited."

Bremer did not even appoint an auditor until April 2004, and the report is not expected until mid-July -- long after the CPA has been dissolved. In the meantime, the CPA has refused to provide even basic information about how the money is being spent. Christian Aid also notes that a "majority of Iraq's reconstruction projects have been awarded to U.S. companies, which charge up to 10 times more than Iraqi firms."

Bush touted the war in Iraq as an effort not just to oust Saddam Hussein, "but to begin transforming the Middle East." But U.S. and foreign officials say the way the administration has handled the invasion and occupation of Iraq has "led to rage at the United States across the Islamic world and beyond." As a result, "Al-Qaeda's recruitment has been stoked and would-be reformers drowned out." A new report by Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy concludes that the United States "is now vulnerable to strategic reversal in the region."

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