Historians Against the War

Activists Guide to the June 30 “Handover of Iraqi Sovereignty”
Prepared by Carolyn Eisenberg of Brooklyn Parents for Peace and Historians Against the War

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For months, the Bush Administration has declared its intention to return full “sovereignty” to Iraq on June 30th. However, their officials now acknowledge in the words of Colin Power, “some of that sovereignty they are going to allow us to exercise on their behalf.” The continuing reality of American troops on the ground contradicts the promise of Iraqi independence.

US Goals: The American occupation of Iraq has a dual aspect: 1/ a military component under Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, which is responsible for maintaining security and 2/ a political component under L. Paul Bremer, which presently exercises complete control over all aspects of civil life. The plan for June 30th is only directed to the political mission, it does not include the military activities of the occupation forces. The Administration’s clear and stated intention is to keep the military occupation intact and the “Iraqi Army” under United States control.

In the political realm, the consistent aim of the Administration has been to put in place an Iraqi “government” that will have popular legitimacy, while implementing an American agenda. For this reason, the White House is fearful of elections and has crafted a succession of complex formulas designed to maintain, but obscure U.S. dominance.

Background: Last September, the United Nations Security Council exacted a commitment from the United States that by December 15, it would present a definite plan for producing an Iraqi Constitution. This task proved impossible when Shiite leaders insisted that the drafters of a permanent constitution must be elected. To circumvent this demand, Bremer changed strategies. Instead of a constitution, the Iraqis were promised a “sovereign” government by June 30, 2004. As the framework of governance, the U.S. occupation authorities in consultation with the already existing U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) would provide an “Interim Constitution.”

This temporarily shelved the argument over how a permanent constitution might be produced. However, in March there was fresh controversy over how to select the members of the new “sovereign” government. The Americans had prescribed a three-tiered “caucus system,” which rested on appointment by the U.S. occupation authorities rather than elections. This proved unacceptable to Shiite leaders and others, who demanded that the Iraqi people have the right to vote on members of the new government. At this point negotiations broke down.

The Interim Constitution: Despite the impasse, U.S. occupation officials and the IGC had continued work on an Interim Constitution (“Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period.”). Signed on March 12, it prescribed a structure of governance and a set of “Fundamental Rights,” for the Iraqi people. Although scarcely noticed in the United States, the “transitional government” outlined in the document would not be established until after December 31, 2004. The Interim Constitution did not specify either a structure or a method of selection for the Iraqi body that was to exercise “sovereignty” after June 30th. This power was left to the Americans, who planned to reinstall the existing Governing Council with some additional members.

Flaws in the Interim Constitution: Despite Secretary Rumsfeld’s contention that the document “shows the power of freedom,” it infuriated many Arabs from a wide range of political views. This was because it retained the undemocratic process of U.S.-backed appointments to the Iraqi government, provided a new legal foundation for continuing the American occupation and rendered permanent the laws and regulations, which had been unilaterally imposed by L. Paul Bremer. Furthermore, as a concession to the Kurds, it was stipulated that this “interim” constitution could not be replaced if two-thirds of the population of three provinces disagreed with a new text.

Like those in many Arab constitutions, the “Fundamental Rights” specified in the document are impressive, but there is little reason to believe they will be enforced, particularly since they do not emerge from an indigenous Iraqi political process. And more ominously, they do not constrain the actions of the occupation forces. In the name of “security,” the American and British military remain free to close down newspapers, disrupt public demonstrations, storm into people’s homes, bomb Iraqi cities in the guise of “suppressing terrorism” and hold prisoners without charges.

Enter the UN: The escalation of violence in April disrupted US plans, eliminating the option of simply retaining or even expanding the old Governing Council. Suddenly desperate, the Bush Administration invited UN emissary Lahdar Brahimi to find a formula for picking a new Iraqi government. His proposal is to create a ruling body of non-political technocrats, chosen by the UN. While this formula may be acceptable to the White House, it remains unwilling to alter the Interim Constitution, to change the June 30th date or to accept any restrictions on the actions of the occupation army. This means, for example, that if a US military commander decides to attack a city, the “sovereign” Iraqi government will be legally powerless.

Points for the Peace Movement: The current debate over the June 30th deadline and whether the Administration is being “premature” in turning over sovereignty to the Iraqis is misleading. The U.S. plan does not envision the return of real sovereignty to Iraq. In communicating with members of Congress or the media, our urgent task is to focus attention on the Bush Administration’s unwillingness to allow the people of Iraq to shape their own institutions or decide their own policies, by:

  1. imposing a US-produced “interim constitution” that is designed to be permanent, despite a failure to consult a wide range of Iraqi opinion.
  2. creating an appointed Iraqi government, which will be prohibited from reversing previous U.S.-imposed laws and regulations, including those which “privatize” the Iraqi economy by allowing U.S. and other foreign corporations to buy up key Iraqi assets
  3. leaving an occupation army on Iraqi soil, which controls American economic aid and retains authority over the “sovereign” Iraqi government, and
  4. exempting that occupation army from the obligation to respect the “fundamental rights“ of the Iraqi people.