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UN gambles on low US profile in Iraq

United Nations, June 9 (Reuters): The UN Security Council gave international legitimacy to Iraq’s efforts to regain sovereignty in the hope a less visible American political presence would reduce the daily bloodshed.

Amid relief agreement had been reached after three weeks of intensive talks, the 15-nation council voted unanimously yesterday to end the occupation on June 30 and endorse a sovereign Iraqi government that would control its economy and civilian institutions. The resolution also authorises the 160,000 US-led troops to “use all measures” to keep the peace, at the request of Iraq’s new leaders, fearful of a civil war if they left.

And it maps out a political process, including elections by January and the writing of a new constitution followed by another round of elections by January 2006. But much will depend on the government’s ability to put the country back together again, particularly in the central region where insurgents are filling a vacuum left by the dismantling of Saddam Hussein’s government.

“Only time will tell whether adoption of this resolution will help achieve a turnaround in Iraq,” said Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Alexander Konuzin.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who is evaluating security before sending UN teams back to Iraq, said the sooner one handed over power to the Iraqis “the faster the security situation, I hope, would improve.”

For the Bush administration, which had scorned the UN for not approving its invasion of Iraq, the vote guaranteed a less divisive summit of eight industrial nations in Sea Island, Georgia, half of which had opposed the war. President George W. Bush said the resolution cleared the way for democracy in Iraq,“a catalyst for change” in West Asia. British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the vote an “important milestone for the new Iraq.”

Most controversial was whether Iraq really had full sovereignty in view of the US-led force, which has a mandate until early 2006 although the new Iraqi government can ask the foreign troops to leave before then.

“The sovereignty is going to be total, is going to be complete,” Iraq’s interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, told Fox News in an interview. “We ask in fact and we want the ... multinational forces to help us to face the security threats until such a time that we are able to build our own security and move ahead.”

Underlining the challenge, guerrillas killed 12 members of an Iraqi security force entrusted with pacifying Falluja and saboteurs blew up a northern oil pipeline.

The US has pledged to coordinate military operations with Iraq through a new national security committee, especially on sensitive offensive campaigns. But it rejected proposals by France, Germany, Algeria, Chile and others that Iraqis have the final say if no agreement is reached.

The resolution is silent on the issue of US military prisons. A letter from secretary of state Colin Powell attached to the resolution said internment would continue but only “where this is necessary for imperative reasons of security.”

Nato role

Bush proposed a Nato role for Iraq at the summit today but the main opponent of the war, French President Jacques Chirac, said the alliance had no role there.

Bush and Blair discussed possible Nato involvement in training Iraqi security forces over breakfast at Sea Island. “We believe Nato ought to be involved,” Bush said, but added: “There’s going to be some constraints, obviously. A lot of Nato countries are not in a position to commit more troops.”

Chirac told a news conference he did not think it was the “mission” of Nato to intervene in Iraq. “Nor do I think it would be relevant or well-understood in Iraq,” he said.

But Chirac and fellow G8 member Helmut Schroeder of Germany, who both strongly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq last year, reported a warm diplomatic atmosphere at the summit.

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