Asked that question, L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, gave this stunning reply: "The CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] will go out of existence on June 30th when authority is passed from the CPA to the sovereign Iraqi government. At that point the position that I am in goes away. But it's very important to stress that that's about all that changes. There will be the world's largest embassy here. We will have more than 100,000 troops here. The embassy will be responsible for overseeing the spending of $18.6 billion, the largest amount of aid we've ever given any country in history. The American presence will continue to be strong and we will stay here until the job is done, as the President has said, and that's going to take time. The only thing really that changes is that I leave and will be replaced by an American ambassador to the mission."
This statement pretty well confirms what Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group told National Public Radio's Weekend All Things Considered on February 14: "What will happen in reality is that power will be transferred almost symbolicly to the Iraqis while the Coalition Provisional Authority will dissolve itself and turn itself into a vastly expanded US Embassy while the American military and British troops remain in control of security." (February 23, 2004)
April 22, 2004 update: Confirmation that June 30 will bring only a symbolic transfer of power came in congressional testimony this week. The Washington Post explains:
Whereas in the past the turnover was described as granting total sovereignty to the appointed Iraqi government, [Undersecretary of State Marc] Grossman yesterday termed it "limited sovereignty". …
"So we transfer sovereignty, but the military decisions continue to reside indefinitely in the control of the American commander. Is that correct?" Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, on Tuesday[, April 20]. "That's correct," Myers replied.
April 23, 2004 update: Further confirmation comes in today's New York Times, where we learn that
The Bush administration's plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws, administration officials said Thursday[, April 22].
Several diplomats and some American officials, the article goes on,
said that if the American military command ordered a siege of an Iraqi city, for example, and there was no language calling for an Iraqi government to participate in the decision, the government might not be able to survive protests that could follow. The diplomats added that it might be unrealistic to expect the new Iraqi government not to demand the right to change Iraqi laws put in place by the American occupation under L. Paul Bremer III, including provisions limiting the influence of Islamic religious law.
The military order would remain roughly unchanged:
Asked whether the new Iraqi government would have a chance to approve military operations led by American commanders, who would be in charge of both foreign and Iraqi forces, a senior official said Americans would have the final say. "The arrangement would be, I think as we are doing today, that we would do our very best to consult with that interim government and take their views into account," said Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs. But he added that American commanders will "have the right, and the power, and the obligation" to decide.
But foreign policy would apparently become an area of Iraqi sovereignty:
Mr. Grossman was also asked what would happen if the new government wanted to adopt a foreign policy opposed by the United States, such as forging close relations with two neighbors, Iran and Syria. The United States, he replied, would have to use the kind of persuasion used by any American ambassador in any country.
In light of all else that we know about the "limited sovereignty" to come, this Iraqi freedom of maneuver sounds implausible to me.
April 25, 2004 update: Iraqis are waking up to the fact that they won't be running their country anytime soon. Here is the beginning of an Associated Press dispatch today, reporting on a forum of about a hundred Iraqis at a building within the "Green Zone," the area of the coalition headquarters:
Iraqi citizens barraged their U.S.-picked leaders with concerns over U.S. domination over Iraq at an open forum Sunday, saying they feel Washington holds too much power and will continue to after the creation of a new government June 30.
"During the rule of the former regime, the order was do what the leader says and don't argue. Today the rule is, do what the White House says whether you argue or not," Salam al-Nasiri, a Baghdad Shiite, told a panel from the Iraqi Governing Council.
"Maybe you should direct this question to George Bush," panel member Mahmoud Othman shrugged in reply.
May 17, 2004 update: Here is Steven R. Weisman of the New York Times on the vexing matter of who will be doing what on July 1st:
For weeks, the American occupation authority in Iraq has been updating the timetable leading to the day it is supposed to go out of business, on June 30, declaring on its Web site on Sunday that there were "46 days until Iraqi sovereignty."
Yet nowhere on the Web site, or anyplace else in official American statements, can be found the identity of the new Iraqi leadership or the precise powers of the new Iraqi government over many important matters, including the full authority over Iraqi armed forces. Those forces will continue to operate under American command, but the Americans have said they will consult the new government on deployment and other issues.
Other subjects that remain unclear include to what extent Iraq will have a say in the practices of American-run prisons that hold Iraqi suspects, some of whom are not charged with any crimes, and over the Iraqi criminal justice system that might prosecute Americans for crimes against Iraqis. …
Nor is it clear to what extent the World Bank and other international agencies will continue to have accounting authority over the spending of huge sums derived from Iraqi assets and oil income. …
The decision to put off these issues is becoming a source of tension and confusion in the Bush administration. Last week, for example, two top officials from the State Department and one from the Defense Department gave contradictory testimony to a House committee on what would happen if an Iraqi government installed after June 30 were to ask American forces to pull out of Iraq.
It took Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to clear up the confusion and declare that although he viewed such a possibility as remote, the Iraqis would indeed have the right to order American and allied troops out of the country if they so chose.
There is still time left to make clear who has what authority; personally, however. I am bracing for the fall-out of this confusion.