US Begins Government Handover to Iraqis – in Ramadi

US Iraq administrator Paul Bremer flew into Baghdad on November 13 from the top-level policy-making conference he attended at the White House carrying a three-page document covering the accelerated transfer of Iraqi sovereignty from the United States to Iraqi authority.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington and Baghdad describe the American administrator as handing the document forthwith to current president of the Iraqi Interim Governing Council, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, to circulate among his fellow councilors for their approval. If accepted, he would sign it on behalf of the ICG and Bremer would affix his signature for the United States, thereby validating the document as a contract covering the transition and its unfolding stages up until the end of 2004.

Events rushed forward from that point on.

Sunday, 15th of November, Talabani brought the document back. It was then duly signed by both parties. The transition of government had been set in motion.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals the key points of this confidential document:

  • The civil administration headed now by the US-led coalition will be handed over to a provisional government of selected members.

  • The provisional government’s mandate will be bound by riders containing a declaration on human rights, a guarantee of judicial independence and a commitment to constitutionally subordinate the armed forces to civilian authority.

  • The provisional government will undertake not to alter a word of the main three-page document and its riders as long as no elected government is installed.

  • The clauses covering the presence of US military forces in Iraq require their evacuation by 2004 or 2005 – a loose timeline that is subject to the degree of security attained in Iraq. The US command retains the prerogative of staging troop evacuations according to Iraq’s security needs.
    President George W. Bush explained on November 20, during his visit to London, that the numbers of US troops in Iraq would be matched to security needs. Regarding the handover process, he said that more than 130,000 Iraqis were now holding down a wide variety of security functions and their number was expanding.

  • A new body called a Transitional National Assembly will assume Iraqi sovereignty on June 30, 2004 – not the provisional government. The TNA has been given a time frame from June 30, 2004 to 15 March 2005 to create Organizing Committees in each of Iraq’s 18 governates and appoint five members to each from the local councils of the five largest cities. Each Organizing Committee will then select a Governate Selection Caucus of local notables, which in turn will select the new assembly.

  • From March 16 2005, the new assembly will take over the final formulation of the constitution (with no deadline) and put it to national referendum.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources note that, while these undertakings embody high principles, they are cagey about dates.

For instance, no date is set for elections. Furthermore, the constitution must be drafted by February 28th, 2004, but there is no date for approval.

Bremer and Talabani estimated that this process would bring the country to its first general election at the end of 2005 or early 2006. In the meantime, the US military would be available to pitch in case of trouble. Every effort would be made by the Americans to ease the process along smoothly during the US presidential election campaign and until a president is installed in the White House in January 2005.

Ramadi experiment encounters sabotage

The signing of the Transition of Authority document did indeed act as a spur for the process to march forward. One day later, on November 16, the first experimental transfer of authority was staged at Ramadi in the very heart of the troublesome Sunni Triangle, where the tribal leader Sheik Amer Ali Suleiman was handed the keys of local authority.

The plan was to use Ramadi as a pivot for fanning out similar handovers across all of western Iraq up to the Syrian and Jordan borders in the next few weeks. Such strategic locations as Haditha, al Qaim and Mosul will be given over to Iraqi local authority, step by careful step, location after location, the pace depending on how smoothly it goes. The Iraqi council will be supported by Kurdish forces. Planning hinges on the assumption that Saddam does not have enough strength, loyalists, hired fighters, Arab volunteers and Al Ansar and al Qaeda terrorists in this region to upset the transfers – particularly when Kurdish troops are there to secure the process and US forces present over the horizon in case of emergencies. The deposed dictator is believed to have little real weight outside pockets of the Sunni Triangle and sections of Baghdad.

So much for the planning.

Hours after the three-page top secret document was signed, it had reached Saddam Hussein’s headquarters. A team of saboteurs stood waiting for Sheik Suleiman to start taking over the new nerve center at Ramadi from the US authorities. No sooner was that accomplished when on November 19, a bomb went off outside his home. He escaped unscathed but seven people were reported killed in the blast.

A few hours later, a car-bomb blew up outside Talabani's PUK headquarters in Kirkuk leaving five dead.

The bombs carried potent messages to local leaders that they played ball with the American power transfer operation at their peril. The mayor of Falujja caught on fast and stepped down Thursday, November 20. While short of the military resources to obstruct the process, the deposed Iraqi leader appears to have sufficient intelligence assets to find out exactly where and when to strike to cause the most serious upsets to American plans.

This secret information would be available to his spies in three possible places:

1. Inside the Interim Governing Council, some of whose members are suspected of working both sides.

2. Agents who have penetrated the “Green Zone” coalition administration headquarters.

3. Local informers, each of whom is able to deliver a vital fragment. Some may have penetrated the very coalition forces which recruit Iraq agents.

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