Iraq's new leaders are off with a jolt.

What the foreign papers are saying.
June 3 2004 4:45 PM

Ready, Set, Govern!

Iraq's new leaders are off with a jolt.

On Tuesday the U.S. government unveiled Iraq's new caretaker government as part of its pledge to grant Iraq sovereignty by the end of June. The Iraqi Governing Council dissolved itself after approving Iyad Allawi, a Shiite neurologist, as prime minister and Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni tribal leader, as president. The council's sudden disappearance leaves Allawi and Yawar in charge just days after learning of their new posts and nearly a month before the U.N.-mandated June 30 deadline. The new Cabinet has earned the conditional support of Iraq's most powerful cleric, Ayatollah al-Sistani, but still faces a difficult future as it shepherds the country toward national elections in January. In the interim it must negotiate with the United States for control over government, reconstruction, and military operations in Iraq.

The new leaders began work today amid continued violence under close observation from papers around the world. U.S. allies provided some of its harshest criticism: A Guardian leader on Wednesday applauded the Iraqi Governing Council for rejecting the U.S.-backed presidential candidate, Adnan Pachachi, but still deemed the process "a shambolic start." The piece suggested that U.S. envoy Paul Bremer "does not like being thwarted" and shut down the council for its defiance, thus forcing the new government into power nearly a month before expected. A roundup of critical stories about the new government in the Sydney Morning Herald led with the headline "New Iraqi government looks uncomfortably familiar" and suggested the new leaders appear dangerously puppetlike.

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A separate Guardian op-ed by Sidney Blumenthal today lambasted the United States for cutting U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi out of the selection process. The piece focused on Bush's reference to World War II as a parallel for Iraq, but also accused the United States of announcing Allawi's appointment before informing Brahimi. Bush "desperately clings to the UN as a figleaf of internationalism," but provided Brahimi with a fait accompli. This treatment led Brahimi to announce, "I'm sure he doesn't mind my saying it—Mr. Bremer is the dictator of Iraq."

Despite the new government's troubled origins, regional papers remained guardedly positive, generally seeing it as a step forward for Iraq. Lebanon's Daily Star called it "an encouraging sign," though the editorial warned that the new structure "could herald another round of destabilizing jockeying for power, and it may be perceived as an American ruse to continue control through a puppet regime supported by US guns and money." BBC Monitoring reported a string of positive headlines from Iraq's Arabic-language papers: "First test of the Iraqis' will. Broadest government formation in Iraq's history," and "Public satisfaction over new president."

However, not all Middle Eastern opinions were positive. A scathing editorial in the UAE-based Khaleej Times dismissed Allawi when his nomination became public last week. "[Allawi] is hardly known in Iraq and has no following," and is "known more as a protégé of Britain's MI6 than as a leader." The daily Arab News argued that "the people who were tortured and suffered inside Iraq deserve these positions," not "people who came with the occupiers." Nearly everyone agreed with Ayatollah Sistani's  assessment of the challenges facing the new leaders, including security, the re-establishment of basic services, a U.N. resolution providing full sovereignty, and next January's elections.

Ed Finn is the director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English at Arizona State University.