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Why Iraq Governing Council failed

The US-appointed group may be sidelined in favor of a UN plan for a nonpolitical interim government.

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With daily gun battles between Sunni insurgents and US Marines in Fallujah, and the tense standoff between US forces and militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the southern city of Najaf, the United States was expected to turn to its appointed Governing Council to mediate a peaceful solution.

The much-vaunted council was supposed to put an Iraqi face on the occupation. "The Governing Council will be involved in all the significant decisions,'' Paul Bremer, the top US administrator here, said last July. "It will be a huge step forward."

But today, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN's Iraq envoy, is writing a transition plan for Iraq that, if he gets his way, will freeze Governing Council members out of Iraq's transitional government.

To council member Ghazi al-Yawar, the conclusion is simple. "We've failed,'' he says. With a trace of disgust, he complains that a sectarian council, more focused on survival than on serious issues, has simply added to the country's problems.

"We sit in the council while the country is burning and argue over procedure,'' says Sheikh Yawar, a Sunni tribal leader who lived abroad until last year. "We're like the Byzantines in Constantinople, debating whether angels are male or female with the barbarians at the gate."

Under Mr. Brahimi's plan for a transitional government, all 25 members of the US-appointed council would be culled in favor of a team of technocrats to be chosen next month by Brahimi's team and influential Iraqis, with US input. The group would take power in July and shepherd Iraq to elections next January - in which, ideally, they would not participate.

Aides to Brahimi say he's uncomfortable with a continuing role for the Governing Council, fearing they could try to manipulate electoral laws and procedures that would deprive any elected government of the legitimacy most believe is needed to calm tensions.

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