A Worn Road for U.N. Aide

By DEXTER FILKINS
Published: May 31, 2004

Analysis

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 30 - When Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, arrived earlier this month, he declared that he would crisscross Iraq to give the people a new government, one that he suggested would be more independent of America's heavy-handed ways.

Now, as Mr. Brahimi nears the end of his work, Iraqis are discovering that his task was not so simple.

With his slate of appointees expected to be announced in the next day or two, the appointments leaked so far suggest that what Mr. Brahimi ultimately accomplishes may turn out to be less a revolution than a rearrangement, less a new cast of characters than a reworked version of the same old faces.

The reason, Iraqis are beginning to say, has been the unexpected assertiveness of American officials and their allies on the Iraqi Governing Council, coupled with Mr. Brahimi's surprising passivity, after he was expected to have a free hand.

The danger, some of these Iraqis say, is that the new government could end up looking too much like the old one, an American-appointed council that never gained the acceptance of the people. If that proves true once the appointees are officially announced, they said, the new government could lack the credibility it needs to carry the country through the turbulent period leading to nationwide elections next year. Already, a three-day cease-fire appeared to be unraveling in the south. [Page A9.]

"If the purpose of the process is to please the Governing Council and the political players, this will be a short-lived moment, and it will fall apart," said Leith Kuba, an Iraqi leader based in Washington. "The Iraqis will not take it."

So far, it appears that Mr. Brahimi is drawing much of his talent from the council. In his first decision, announced Friday, he agreed to select as prime minister Ayad Alawi, a man from that council who is best known for his connections to the Central Intelligence Agency. One person with knowledge of the negotiations said Mr. Brahimi had been pushed by the Americans into accepting Dr. Alawi, who was not his first choice.

On Saturday, word trickled forth that Mr. Brahimi had gone to the American-appointed council and its bureaucracy for five of the eight leadership posts he was said to have filled.

On Sunday, the alliances shifted when Mr. Brahimi teamed up with American officials in trying to choose an Iraqi president. That seemed to provoke a backlash from members of the Governing Council, who accused Mr. Brahimi and L. Paul Bremer III, the chief American administrator here, of trying to dictate to the only representative body in Iraq.

"The Americans are trying to impose these decisions on us, and we are trying to reject them," said Mahmood Othman, a council member who has been critical of both Mr. Bremer and Mr. Brahimi. "And they talk about sovereignty."

As he promised, Mr. Brahimi roamed across the country to talk with Iraqis about what the shape of their government should be. At the time, he said he hoped to appoint a government of technocrats - experts who stayed above the push-and-pull of politics.

Yet when he settled on a choice for prime minister - Hussein Shahristani, a nuclear scientist and a Shiite - he ran into a wall of opposition from the leaders of mainstream Shiite political parties, who wanted the job for themselves.

Instead of fashioning the kind of savvy compromise for which he is known, Mr. Brahimi appears to have folded, acquiescing to the desires of the Americans, who were promoting Dr. Alawi. While American officials maintain that Dr. Alawi was Mr. Brahimi's choice, people close to Mr. Brahimi say he reluctantly endorsed him only after American officials aggressively recommended him.

One person conversant with the negotiations said Mr. Brahimi was presented with "a fait accompli" after President Bush's envoy to Iraq, Robert D. Blackwill, "railroaded" the Governing Council into coalescing around him.

Mr. Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria, was said to be deeply troubled by Dr. Alawi's ties to the C.I.A. and to the likelihood that Iraqis would regard him as too close to the United States.

After the decision, Mr. Brahimi declined to comment in detail about the selection, but suggested, for the first time, that his role here was far more limited than originally thought.

"You know, sometimes people think I am a free agent out here, that I have a free hand to do whatever I want," he said in an interview last week.

The choice of Dr. Alawi reinforced the surprising role of the Governing Council, whose mandate is about to expire, leaving some of its members eager to latch onto the new government. Opinion polls of Iraqis show that the council has been viewed as little more than a mouthpiece for the United States.

Not only did the council endorse Dr. Alawi, but it also seems to have convinced Mr. Brahimi of its own worth. According to two Iraqis with knowledge of the negotiations, Mr. Brahimi agreed to appoint four council members and its foreign minister to eight of the senior-level government jobs so far.

"I told Lakhdar Brahimi that the members of the Governing Council have no trust from the Iraqi people," said Fakri al-Qaisi, founder of a group of hard-line clerics called the State Council for the Sunnis. "I said the decisions of the Governing Council members have always gone against the will of the Iraqi people."

The deadlock that continued Sunday over the presidency found Mr. Brahimi again endorsing the American choice: Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister who is a friend. That placed Mr. Brahimi and the Americans at odds with the rest of the Governing Council, which favored Sheik Gazi al-Yawar.

Dan Senor, the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, told reporters on Sunday that the American government did not have "a preferred candidate" for the presidency. But earlier in the day, according to Iraqis, Mr. Bremer told the Governing Council it had to get behind Mr. Pachachi.

It was that kind of heavy-handedness, some Iraqis say, that was supposed to be missing from the new government - and which many had expected Mr. Brahimi to cure.

"It doesn't fit what Bush says," said Mr. Othman, the council member. "He said Iraqis are free."