American officials transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government at 10:26 a.m. Baghdad timeyesterday, two days ahead of schedule. President Bush declared that “the world witnessed the arrival of a free and sovereign Iraqi government.” What makes Iraq a sovereign nation?
Mostly it’s the fact that the United States has relinquished legal control over some ofIraq’s political affairs. As of yesterday, the interim Iraqi government gained authority over all of the nation’s ministries, as well as the administration of the day-to-day civil proceedings in the country. The Coalition Provisional Authority, which had been presiding over Iraq since the invasion last year, ceased to exist, transferring its law-making and administrative powers to coalition-appointed Iraqi cabinet members.
The handover was by and large a symbolic procedure, since control of all 26 government ministries had already been transferred to Iraqi officials and the CPA’s role in civil affairs was considerably reduced. Moreover, Iraq’s new sovereignty has significant limits, most notably regarding the more than 160,000 U.S.-led troops that will remain in the country indefinitely. While the United Nations resolution authorizing the transfer of power claims that Iraq now has “full sovereignty,” and the ruling government can technically ask the troops to leave, no one expects the coalition forces to decamp anytime soon. The current Iraqi government is also hamstrung in its law-making abilities—it cannot make international treaties or any long-term policy decisions. Financially, spending decisions involving Iraq’s oil revenues will be heavily monitored by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the country’s inability to get credit means it will be operating primarily on America’s dime for the foreseeable future.
All these restrictions suggest that Iraq’s newfound “sovereign” status is more figurative than literal. Black’s Law Dictionary defines sovereignty as the “power to do everything in a state without accountability,—to make laws, to execute and to apply them, to impose and collect taxes and levy contributions, to make war or peace, to form treaties of alliance or of commerce with foreign nations, and the like.” Since Iraq fails to meet part or all of the last two planks of that definition, the country is still a far cry from being truly sovereign.
Of course, there’s nothing that says sovereignty means equanimity. In his new documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, filmmaker Michael Moore notes that the United States invaded “the sovereign nation of Iraq” when it went to war last year. Considering the totality of Saddam Hussein’s control at the time, that statement is both correct and seemingly irrelevant. After all, governments such as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy also met the base-line definition of sovereignty, and American troops helped dislodge them from power, too.