Head of the US Office for Reconstruction & Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) Jay Garner on 5 May held out the possibility of an interim Iraqi government being in place by the beginning of June. He also named five former exiles whom he expected to play a leading role – Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

‘The five opposition leaders have begun having meetings and they are going to bring in leaders from inside Iraq and see if we can form a nucleus of leadership as we enter into June,’ said Garner. However, according the exiles such centrality is likely to prove controversial. Many enjoy little popular following, and the groups themselves are said to favour postponing the formation of a government to allow them to marshal support. A third political meeting is scheduled for June.

Garner’s burden was lightened on 6 May with the formal appointment of former state department official, Paul Bremer, as the senior coalition official taking charge of steering Iraq towards self-governance. Bremer will report to the US Department of Defense. London also moved to strengthen its civilian presence in Iraq, with the appointment on 7 May of John Sawers, the British ambassador to Egypt, as political envoy to liaise with the ORHA on the establishment of a government.

Washington is also stepping up the pace on Iraq’s economic transition. Following a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 7 May, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that a draft resolution would be presented to the UN Security Council within days. Under the plan, the oil-for-food programme would be phased out over four months and control of oil sales passed to an international board, including either the World Bank or the IMF. The UN would appoint a special envoy to Iraq to liaise with the US an d UK on the new government, economic reconstruction and humanitarian issues.

However, Moscow responded by calling for only a limited suspension of sanctions on humanitarian goods, saying that their lifting was contingent on Iraq being certified free of weapons of mass destruction.

See Iraq reconstruction, page 6