Allies seek U.N. backing on Iraq draft resolution

Plan would give country effective U.S. troop veto

May 25, 2004|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Struggling to build international support for their Iraq strategy, the United States and Britain offered yesterday to give a new Iraqi government an effective veto over the presence of American troops in the country and a voice in how the U.S. military conducts operations against insurgents.

In a draft Security Council resolution, the two allies also said the United Nations could decide a year from now - or even sooner - whether foreign forces should remain in the country. And, bowing to pressure from other countries, they assigned the United Nations a "leading role" in helping Iraqis create new government institutions.

The draft is part of a major drive by the White House to convince the world - and American voters - that President Bush has a clear strategy for stabilizing Iraq, ending the U.S. occupation and returning the oil-rich nation to control by Iraqis as soon as possible.

But it quickly ran into objections from other veto-wielding members of the council. China and France called for U.S. forces to be given only a six-month mandate to remain in Iraq, rather than a year. France went a step further, saying that after January, U.S. troops should be withdrawn unless Iraq specifically asks for them to remain.

The U.S.-British draft lays out a series of steps - from fighting Iraqi insurgents to the way Iraqi oil revenues will be monitored and spent - that will guide Iraq's political development and its relations with the rest of the world after June 30.

On that date, the U.S. occupation will officially end, and an interim government will take political power in Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by L. Paul Bremer III, will dissolve, and the United States will be represented in Iraq by an ambassador, John D. Negroponte.

The draft attempts to dispel fears that the United States aims to control Iraq indefinitely through the presence of more than 130,000 troops, saying the council is "determined to mark a new phase in Iraq's transition."

It says the council recognizes "the importance of the consent of the sovereign government of Iraq" to keeping U.S. forces in the country and of the need for "close coordination" between the Iraqi government and the U.S. military.

A U.S. official said the administration was willing to consider a number of possible changes. "We're very flexible on this resolution," he said.

This new, more humble attitude reflects increasing alarm in Washington over continued instability and bloodshed in Iraq, which polls show has weakened support for the United States overseas and harmed Bush's re-election prospects at home.

After invading Iraq last year without an explicit U.N. mandate, the United States has failed since then to win broad international support for the way it has led the postwar occupation. The United States has lost credibility because of the failure to uncover stockpiles of banned weapons and has seen its moral authority eroded by revelations of prison abuse.

Negative attitudes toward the United States around the world have limited financial aid to Iraq from other countries and forced U.S. troops to shoulder an overwhelming share of the security burden.

The proposed resolution endorses a plan for Iraqi self-rule developed by U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is trying to put together a representative and stable caretaker government that satisfies Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

The caretaker government will see Iraq through to December or January, when elections will be held for a national assembly. This assembly will draft a constitution, which will form the basis for electing a new national government.

The resolution is not expected to be voted on by the Security Council until Brahimi names the interim government, a step that could come at the end of this week.

The U.S.-British draft doesn't give Iraq complete control over its oil revenues. It keeps in existence an International Advisory and Monitory Board that includes members picked by the secretary-general and international financial institutions, but it also lets Iraq add one member.

It would partially lift the arms embargo first imposed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, allowing Iraq to import weapons needed to strengthen its own security forces.

The most contentious provisions involved security. The U.S.-British draft grants a one-year mandate to the U.S.-led international force and spells out a unified command for all forces in Iraq, meaning that Iraqi security forces would fall under American control.

The mandate could be reviewed when the year is up or earlier, if the Iraqi government demands it. U.S. officials also said that if Iraq asked American troops to leave, they would.

The resolution leaves vague how U.S. troops are supposed to coordinate with the new Iraqi government. U.S. officials say the arrangements will be spelled out later in letters to the United Nations from the American commander and the post-June 30 Iraqi government.

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