Iraq regime might hold veto over U.S. military actions

Blair raises possibility

workability questioned

some call it exit strategy

Crisis In Iraq

May 26, 2004|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The future control of military operations in Iraq was thrown into confusion yesterday when Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain suggested that the interim government that will assume authority after June 30 could veto major military actions by U.S.-led multinational forces.

The notion that Iraqi civilians could wield such control over U.S. forces conflicts with American military practice, which normally puts operations under the full control of U.S. commanders on the ground and their civilian leaders in Washington. One analyst suggested that Iraqi political interference could put U.S. troops' lives at risk.

Blair's assertion produced mixed responses in Washington.

It coincided with a renewed White House effort to convince Iraqis and other nations that Iraq will enjoy "full sovereignty" and that U.S. troops will stay only until the country can ensure its own security against insurgents and militants.

In addition, Scott McClellan, President Bush's spokesman, did not dispute Blair's characterization of Iraq's new influence over military action. McClellan said: "We will be there with the consent of the interim government, because sovereignty will be transferred by June 30. We are going to work in close cooperation with that interim government."

But Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said, "If it comes down to the United States' armed forces protecting themselves or in some way accomplishing their mission in a way that might not be in total consonance with what the Iraqi interim government might want to do ... U.S. forces remain under U.S. command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves."

Bush's pledge to return sovereignty to Iraqis has elicited skepticism in the Arab world and Europe. Critics question how much independence Iraq will truly have with 138,000 U.S. and 7,500 British troops remaining in their country indefinitely.

On June 30, the United States will dismantle the Coalition Provisional Authority, which now holds political power in Iraq, and turn civilian rule over to an as-yet-unnamed interim government. The coalition troops would stay to provide security.

Powell and other officials have said that U.S. troops would leave if the Iraqis demanded it. And a draft U.N. Security Council resolution, introduced this week by the United States and Britain, calls for the troops to remain only with Iraq's "consent." But U.S. officials say they do not think the government that takes power June 30 will demand a withdrawal.

Still, in a bid to signal an eventual end to the troops' presence, France has demanded that a time limit of six more months be imposed on the U.S.-led coalition forces. Under the French proposal, American forces could remain longer only if Iraq requested that their presence be extended.

Asked at a news conference in London yesterday whether the new Iraqi government would wield veto power over major military actions, Blair mentioned the example of the volatile Sunni city of Fallujah. Under pressure last month from the U.S.-chosen Iraqi Governing Council, American commanders switched tactics and decided against mounting an all-out assault on that city.

"If there is a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Fallujah in a particular way," Blair said, "that has to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government, and the final political control remains with the Iraqi government."

"That is what the transfer of sovereignty means," he said. "That doesn't mean to say that our troops are going to be ordered to do something they don't want to do."

Bush administration officials have been reluctant to specify the rules that will govern U.S. military operations after June 30. The rules, they have said, will be spelled out in letters to the U.N. Security Council after an interim government is created.

A U.S. defense official said the military would work as "partners" with Iraqi security forces who are being trained and equipped by the United States. The promised "close cooperation and consultation," the official said, "implies something along the line of what Mr. Blair said."

The official, who spoke on condition that he not be named, rejected the notion that Iraqis would impose such restraints on American forces that they would be unable to prevail militarily. After the Vietnam War, some critics complained that American troops had been forced to fight with one hand tied behind their back.

"In Vietnam, there was no clear, strategic political objective," the official said. "We have a clear objective here in Iraq. Our forces are empowered to accomplish that mission."

A U.S. military officer with experience in Iraq also said he thought the new arrangement would be "workable."

"The truth is that Iraqis already have some say in security issues," the officer said. "If we're going to say `sovereignty,' then we're going to have to allow some."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.