by Peyman Pejman
(IPS) DUBAI -- Arab states seem to be adopting a wait-and-see attitude after Iraqi leaders agreed Tuesday with the United States and United Nations on a new interim government that will lead the country towards its first elections next year.
While reservations were expressed over whether the interim Iraqi government could direct the occupied country to real political independence, Arab leaders, however, were careful to congratulate only the appointed interim president.
Sheikh Ghazi Ojeil Yawar, an influential tribal chief appointed as president in defiance of the United States, called for the United Nations to give Iraq full sovereignty when the U.S.-led occupation authority is wound up on June 30.
But the sticking point is still Washington's insistence that 150,000 foreign troops, most of them from the United States, remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future to provide security.
After two days of bitter confrontation, the U.S. government and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi finally accepted Yawar in the largely ceremonial role of head of state after their preferred candidate, elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, turned down the job.
In return, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council agreed to dissolve itself with immediate effect and accepted a cabinet line- up under Iyad Allawi, who was appointed prime minister.
At the swearing-in ceremony, Yawer said his goal was to make Iraq one nation, "without murderers and criminals."
The first cautious reactions to the new Iraqi interim government came from Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, whose organization is meant to embody the 22 Arab states.
Referring to the selection of Yawar as the interim president, Moussa said: "As long as there was consensus of opinion between all those connected with the subject, then Mr Yawar represents the joint will of the Governing Council."
Moussa stopped short of making any comments about the new interim government.
When the Iraqi Governing Council was first appointed last July by the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, the Arab League refused to grant it recognition.
But after pressure from the United States and its allies in the league, Iraq's membership was provisionally renewed for a year.
Like the Arab League chief, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was equally circumspect.
According to the official Middle East News Agency, the Egyptian leader affirmed "Egypt's complete support for his [Yawar's] future plans to underpin the pillars of sovereignty, independence and authentic national governance."
Prime Minister Allawi, who has longtime ties to both British and U.S. intelligence agencies, and his cabinet did not even receive a mention in Mubarak's statement.
Similar statements were made in neighbouring Jordan by Foreign Minister Marwan Moashar.
Without naming names, Moashar said: "Jordan will accept whomever the Iraqi people choose to guide them in the right direction to take back their sovereignty."
The Jordanian head of state, King Abdullah, who was on his way overseas, did not make any remarks.
But the only welcoming voice came from Iran.
"This government may not fulfil all of our expectations, but it is a step forward. We are happy that this government has begun its work," Hassan Rowhani, a cleric who heads the Islamic republic's Supreme National Security Council, told IPS.
The reluctance of many Arab states to openly welcome the new interim Iraqi governmentis based on their uncertainty about the future role of the United States in the occupied country.
Many Arab leaders are wary the interim government will have only limited authority to steer the country towards National Assembly elections, scheduled at the end of January 2005, given the interference of the United States in every aspect of post-Saddam Iraq -- from security to politics.
"The reality here is that Iraq is still under U.S. occupation. Washington still calls the shots and continues to push to have its way," said an Arab League official in Cairo who asked not to be named.
"At the end of the day this poses a serious problem for many Arab officials," he told IPS.
Explained the official: "On the one hand, they recognise that Iraq is on its way towards sovereignty. But, on the other hand, Iraq is just not quite there for us to come out and fully support its government."
Iraqi officials are fully aware that unless the new government shows it is moving towards full sovereignty, it might not achieve the degree of international recognition it needs to persuade other nations to send troops to replace the U.S.-led occupation force.
A new UN Security Council resolution, currently being debated in New York, sets a timeframe for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Iraq and stresses the new government will have full control over Iraqi security forces.
To that end interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has been sent by Baghdad to the UN headquarters to lobby Security Council members.
White House officials, too, are cognisant of the importance of the new Iraqi government having powers independent of the U.S. occupying forces.
Washington's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice reiterated Wednesday that Washington does not consider the new Iraqi government "a puppet" and said the White House would deal with it as a sovereign body.
One reason why Washington understands the need for giving the new Iraqi government more leeway is because it also needs the help of other Arab states to bring stability to Iraq.
The United States currently has over 150,000 soldiers in Iraq but has indicated it can use help from a multi-nation peacekeeping force preferably from Arab and Muslim countries to relieve the stress of some of its troops. Many of the U.S. troops have been serving in Iraq for more than a year and are overdue for a break
"We have been approached more than once and through more than one channel to send Arab forces to help the coalition forces, and we have said repeatedly we will not do us as long as there is no sovereign Iraqi government," said the Arab League official in Cairo.
The Arab League, the White House, and many Iraqis hope the new UN Security Council resolution will explicitly recognise the new Iraqi government as the country's sovereign representative -- an action the previous resolution did not take with regard to the now-dissolved Iraq Governing Council.
The United Nations ended a first round of consultations over the resolution on Tuesday, but more talks are expected before the Security Council reaches a decision.
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