UNITED NATIONS - Despite the positive responses Monday from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and members of the Security Council who praised the U.S. "transfer of sovereignty" to an interim government in Iraq, Middle East experts and political analysts dismiss the regime change in Baghdad as a "monumental fraud".
"The truth is that Iraqi sovereignty is a sham," says Rahul Mahajan, publisher of the blog EmpireNotes.org and author of 'Full Spectrum: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond'.
The United States will keep at least 138,000 troops in Iraq (augmented by about 20,000 from other countries) for the forseeable future, he said. Fourteen permanent or semi-permanent military bases have been and are being constructed to house them, said Mahajan, who returned recently from a trip to Iraq.
"Those forces have, by an eleventh hour edict of Paul Bremer (head of the former U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority), complete immunity from Iraqi law and Iraqi courts," he added.
The role of the new interim government in Baghdad has been reduced to "advice" and "consultation". "This is, and remains, a direct military occupation," Mahajan told IPS.
He said the level of control that the United States retains "is just short of full colonial administration".
The interim government, headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, will be operating under several restrictions imposed by the outgoing Coalition Provisional Authority.
Allawi's government, which will hold office until country-wide elections are held in January next year, will not have the power or the authority to change the interim constitution or even amend the Transitional Administrative Law.
An edict signed by Bremer also gives U.S. and Western defense contractors complete immunity from Iraqi law.
Additionally, Bremer created and appointed an electoral commission that can ban political parties; gave five-year terms to the new hand-picked national security adviser and national intelligence chief; and appointed inspectors-general with five-year terms over every one of the 26 Iraqi government ministries.
Last month, the U.N. Special Representative in Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi described Bremer as "the dictator of Iraq". "Nothing happens without his agreement in this country," Brahimi said.
At a low-key ceremony in Baghdad Monday, Bremer "transferred sovereignty" to the interim government. The handover of political power to Allawi -- originally scheduled for Jun.30 -- was advanced by two days primarily to take the insurgents by surprise, and undermine any attempts to escalate the level of violence over the next three days.
"This is a historical day," Allawi told Bremer. "We feel we are capable of controlling the security situation."
Bremer left for the United States in a military transport plane immediately after the ceremony in Baghdad.
In a statement released Monday, Annan "welcomed the state of Iraq back into the family of independent and sovereign nations". And speaking on behalf of the 15 members of the Security Council, Ambassador Lauro Baja Jr. of the Philippines "hailed an end to the occupation of Iraq" and praised the country's "fully sovereign and independent" interim government.
Dilip Hiro, a longstanding Middle East expert based in London, says the interim government is no better than the U.S.-appointed former Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).
"In the final analysis, they are all beholden to the United States. And as was true of the IGC, two-thirds of the 36-member interim government carry foreign passports, chiefly British and American," Hiro told IPS.
Of the remaining 12 who have only Iraqi passports, half are women. "Remarkably, most of the former exiles of the IGC didn't even bring their families back to Iraq," said Hiro, author of 'Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm.'
He also pointed out that a former IGC member, Adnan Pachachi, returned to his base in Abu Dhabi within days of his failure to secure the post of president of Iraq in early June.
"Now, the former exiles on the interim government are following the same IGC example and keeping their families abroad. This shows just how skin deep their attachment to Iraq is, and how little faith they have in its future as a U.S.-dominated 'stable, democratic state'."
Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois, says that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell -- in a letter to the Security Council early June -- said that the military forces that will make up the proposed new multinational force in Iraq will remain committed at all times to act consistently with their obligations under the law of armed conflict, including the Geneva Conventions.
These laws of armed conflict can be found in U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10, the Law of Land Warfare, he said.
"Thereunder, if the U.S. government wants to set up a puppet government such as the so-called interim government of Iraq (whose prime minister is a longstanding agent of the Central Intelligence Agency), it can. Nevertheless, as the belligerent occupant of Iraq, the U.S. government shall remain at all times accountable under law of war for the activities of its puppet government in Iraq," said Boyle, author of 'Destroying World Order.'
"The restrictions placed upon the authority of a belligerent government cannot be avoided by a system of using a puppet government, central or local, to carry out acts which would be unlawful if performed directly by the occupant. Acts induced or compelled by the occupant are nonetheless its acts," Boyle told IPS.
He also said that the Security Council resolution adopted in early June endorsing the "handover" of power to Iraq "proves that the imperialist powers who dominate the Council and are its permanent members, together with their allies, are now primarily interested in carving up Iraq among themselves and looting Iraq of its oil resources -- along the lines of what Japan did in its puppet state of Manchuko in pre-World War II China."
"The peoples of the world are now witnessing the rapid decline of the United Nations itself along the lines of what happened to the League of Nations in the 1930s. Can World War III be far behind?" he asked.
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service