THE NAMING of Iraq's interim Governing Council is a big step in the long process of midwifing institutions for a country reborn. With a few diehard Saddam loyalists fighting on, the men and women serving on the council may be risking their lives by working with Americans to lay the foundations of a decent political future for their countrymen.
But recognizing that shouldn't blind anyone to the political realities of the new council. A group representative of so diverse and politically traumatized a land is bound to contain contradictions. How well the group functions despite them will depend on its members' skill and on their shared, good-faith commitment to democratic outcomes.
On that score, the inclusion of a veteran of Saddam's foreign ministry is troubling. Akila Al Hashimi, an Iraqi diplomat for more than a decade, reportedly worked closely with Saddam's faithful deputy Tariq Aziz on at least one project. The council voted Monday to send her and two others to the United Nations to "assert and emphasize the role of the Governing Council as a legitimate Iraqi body during this transitional period."
Yet as recently as February 2003, Hashimi was speaking for Saddam Hussein's regime, denouncing the United States before a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur.
The "defense of Iraq is now the defense of the civilized world," Hashimi told the 114-nation gathering in Malaysia on February 21, according to the Associated Press. "This war is just like a machine, and if it is not stopped with Iraq, the American machine of war will continue rolling over Third World countries."
Hashimi has been to New York before. In June, she spoke for the Iraqi delegation to an informal U.N. meeting on reconstruction. She then said she and her colleagues were "technicians working in close cooperation with the [American] Authority. We represent our country."
Hashimi, it seems, is adaptable. Inquiries with the American Authority in Baghdad have not yet revealed why she was chosen for so prominent a role despite her past service, though one source said people inside and outside the foreign ministry vouched for her. She was never a top official of Saddam's, or an ambassador. She reportedly has a Ph.D. in literature. One wonders how much the fact that she is an Iraqi woman who does not cover her head--the only one on the council--weighed in her selection.
On the new mission to New York, Hashimi is partnered with two men who have serious opposition credentials: Ahmed Chalabi, head of a democratic umbrella group, the Iraqi National Congress, and Adnan Pachachi, the octogenarian former foreign minister, dislodged by Saddam's coup in 1968.
By that standard, she looks like a technician who can fall into step with whatever boss is in charge. Chameleon bureaucrats are not equipped to make the choices that will define the new Iraq.
An adviser to the Iraqi National Congress in Washington, Francis Brooke, declines to comment on individual members, but offers this perspective on the council as a whole: "The Governing Council is the product of a complex political negotiation. There are always disagreements--some like Tom DeLay, some like Dick Gephardt. We are satisfied that in total, the Governing Council is pro-West, pro-democracy, secular, and devoted to the welfare of the Iraqi people and to good relations with the United States."
Maybe, but it appears to have at least one weak link.
Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.