By Colin Foster
Although Iraq's new prime ministed, Iyad Allawi, was essentially appointed by the USA, his government now owes its authority to a UN Security Council Resolution passed on 8 June after long negotiations between the big powers. That gives it much more potential for autonomy than if its status depended exclusively on the USA's say-so.
Any movement from potential to actuality is unlikely to be simple.
The Iraqi government's control over the US troops will be limited to a requirement of "partnership" and consultation.
The USA is keeping 138,000 troops there, and the UK over 8,000. They may even increase the numbers. The USA is building 14 long-term military bases in Iraq.
The USA managed to block a French proposal at the UN that the Iraqi government should have powers to veto US military operations in Iraq.
There are also around 15,000 mercenaries - members of private security forces - working in Iraq, subject to even less public scrutiny than the US and UK armies, and even less accountable to the supposedly sovereign Iraqi government.
The interim government is still tied by US decrees mandating privatisation of the Iraqi economy. Those are set to be copper-fastened later this year in negotiations where the big powers will kindly grant Iraq a waiver on some of the huge foreign debt built up by Saddam Hussein in return for locking it into an IMF-written economic programme.
Violence and insecurity continue. According to Patrick Cockburn in the Independent (9 June): "More [foreigners] are being killed in the main cities and roads. On some highways, scouts monitor cars for foreigners. If they spot one, they attack.
"There has also been a rash of assassinations of middle-ranking figures associated with the interim government. Gunmen are showing more confidence striking at vehicles on the airport road".
Allawi's strategy is explicitly to reject and reverse the "mistake" which he says the US made last year in dissolving the old Iraqi army, and to try to recompose it. He has long criticised the US occupation authorities as excessively purging former Ba'thists, and says he will reverse that policy. He cannot restore the old Ba'thist state - it would take a full-scale counter-revolution to do that - but he can bring many deep-dyed reactionaries into positions of power.
On 7 June he claimed he had reached a deal to incorporate most of the 100,000 fighters of the existing militias into the army. Moqtada Sadr's Shia-fundamentalist Army of the Mahdi was not included in the deal, but Allawi's aim with Sadr, too, is to find a deal of some sort.
The next day, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which has one of the biggest militias, said it did not recognise Allawi's deal. US officials say they expect increasing violence in the coming weeks.
In the UN Security Council resolution of 8 June, the US has made major shifts to try to extricate itself.
The USA's old confidence in the ability of short, sharp blasts of US military power to reshape the world, its arrogant determination to act alone, its contempt for the UN - which reached a peak in the 2003 war - has been overturned.
A year ago, US officials were saying, gloatingly, that they would see to it that France was "punished" in due course for its opposition to the war. Now the USA has turned back to the UN, and done a deal with France.
The USA is still a much bigger power than France, and the USA has the forces on the ground in Iraq. But, according to US academic Juan Cole: "The resolution gives the new Iraqi government substantially more sovereignty than had been envisaged by the US in the initial draft... The language went far beyond what the US had wanted.
"That the US and the UK had to give away so much to get the resolution shows how weak they are in Iraq. The problem is that they have created a failed state in Iraq, and this new piece of paper really changes nothing on the ground".
Whether "the new piece of paper" (the new upfront UN role) will create a stronger framework in which Allawi can co-opt the militias, and Iraq will begun to emerge from the spiral of descent into being a battleground between increasingly rattled and brutal occupation forces, on one side, and diverse reactionary militias, on the other, remains to be seen.
The US government still promises elections in Iraq in January 2005; but now, and especially before the US presidential election on 2 November 2004, it wants above all a deal of some sort which creates some more-or-less plausible, more-or-less stable Iraqi government. It wants an arrangement which enables it to step back from its present exposed position and let the UN and the IMF do more of the job of trying to integrate Iraq into the global free-fire zone for capitalist profit-making.
Setbacks for the USA, however, do not automatically mean advances for the peoples of Iraq. Nor should anyone think that the UN Security Council - where the main counterweights to the USA are France and Russia - will guarantee of democracy.
The strongest anti-US forces in Iraq are fiercely reactionary. Allawi wants to co-opt them.
The Iraqi unions' demand for a new labour law in Iraq, codifying the precarious de facto rights to organise and take action they have won over the last year, remains unmet. Saddam Hussein's 1987 labour law remains on the statute books, unenforceable for now but a threat for the future.
The new Iraqi workers', unemployed, and women's movements have been severely battered by the battles of recent months between their rival enemies, the occupation forces and the Islamist militias. But they still exist. They can still win support from that large section of the Iraqi population which wants neither the US, nor returned Ba'thists, nor the Islamists.
They need solidarity and support from the international labour movement.
The occupation forces have huge resources. The Islamists have an existing network, and much help from Iran and Saudi Arabia. Only the international labour movement can give Iraq's workers the support and aid they need.