Global Policy Forum

UN Iraq Resolution a Tough Sell


By Robin Wright and Colum Lynch

Washington Post
April 26, 2004

The Bush administration is preparing a broad U.N. resolution to endorse its plan to transfer power in Iraq, but it may face a tough sell on proposals guaranteeing legal protection for foreign troops and letting Washington make the final judgments on Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.

The scope of the powers scheduled to be handed over to an Iraqi provisional government on June 30 could also trigger contentious debate, the officials said. Some key U.N. members are already questioning whether the United States will actually retain significant control.

The general goal of a new resolution is to rally international support behind the new provisional government, which is still being negotiated by U.S. and U.N. officials, and ease year-long international friction over the U.S.-led military intervention to oust Hussein.

With serious deliberations on a draft now underway within the administration, U.S. officials are optimistic about rallying enough Security Council support -- unlike the resolution authorizing the use of force last year. "We are working on such a resolution, and I'm confident we'll be able to obtain such a resolution," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told Dutch RTL television Friday.

Yet what some U.S. officials have already dubbed the "mega-resolution" may be in trouble even before a draft is finalized. "This could be the last big diplomatic battle over U.S. Iraq policy," said a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy.

Security Council envoys are concerned that the new resolution will convey only partial sovereignty to Iraq, leaving a new government with little legitimacy and ultimate power in the hands of the United States and its military allies. Russia, China, Pakistan and other council members insist that the transfer of power mark a real end to U.S. control and that the United Nations be given wider powers -- more than the world body appears prepared to assume.

"The main thing is to give back the central role to the United Nations," said China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya. "Of course the occupation ends on June 30, but for many people there will still be a continuation of foreign occupation."

Once the shape of the interim government is settled, negotiations will begin on a resolution, U.S. officials say, although they have already identified the main provisions -- and three possible stumbling blocks. The first involves the legal authority of U.S.-led foreign forces to continue operations in Iraq.

Typically, Washington negotiates a "status of forces" agreement with a host government to deploy troops in another country. But Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's top cleric, has said only a directly elected Iraqi government can negotiate treaties. Without such a pact, U.S. soldiers could be vulnerable to legal action from the civil authorities in the event of hostile interactions with civilians or militia forces.

The United States and Britain say foreign forces were given legal cover by a previous U.N. resolution, but their allies are pressing for further U.N. approval to assuage domestic public opinion, officials say. So the United States intends to seek U.N. approval for a multinational force in Iraq, which could be interpreted to permit foreign forces to carry out military operations, according to U.S. officials.

To make the case, U.S. officials say, they will argue that without foreign troops, the current turmoil could escalate.

The second issue is embracing a new Iraqi provisional government and the 18-month transition that will include writing a new constitution and at least two elections. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been consulting with U.S. authorities and leading Iraqi figures about forming what amounts to a caretaker government until national elections can be held in January 2005. U.S. officials made clear last week that the transitional government would have limited powers, with no authority to write new laws and no control over U.S. military forces that would continue to operate in Iraq.

This process is further complicated by a controversy over the new interim constitution, which was approved by the appointed Iraqi Governing Council in March but criticized by Sistani because it was not written or approved by elected representatives. Approving the new government could be seen as implicitly endorsing the disputed constitution.

To accommodate both Iraqi and Security Council concerns, the United States is considering "compressing" or scrapping much of the interim constitution, known as the Transitional Administration Law, so that only pivotal provisions on human rights and dates are retained, U.S. officials say. This would be a major shift because the United States brokered the laws. But with time running out, the administration is now prepared to be flexible, U.S. officials say, to avert confrontations complicating the transition.

The third issue is determining whether U.N. or U.S. teams will write the final report on Iraq's weaponry. The U.S. Iraq Survey Group is investigating what happened to Iraq's deadliest arms, but previous resolutions give the United Nations legal jurisdiction.

To ensure that it has the last word, the United States would like to call for the dismantlement of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, U.S. officials said. The United States instead wants a resolution that effectively lets the Iraq Survey Group draw final conclusions about Hussein's military capabilities.

Washington could face opposition, however. "UNMOVIC should finalize its work, present a report about the final status of their findings and the status of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," said Russia's acting U.N. ambassador, Gennady Gatilov. "We should look how in the future we can use the experience and potential of UNMOVIC in future disarmament."

With only 50 working days until the U.S.-led coalition hands over power June 30, the State Department is in the midst of a "strategy jam" to rush a resolution for passage by mid-May that will settle all these issues, said a second U.S. official involved in Iraq policy. There is a growing sense of unease within the administration about the enormity of what has to be achieved in such a short time, administration officials say. "The aim of all of this is to demonstrate the international community is rallying behind a sovereign Iraq," said a British envoy at the United Nations.

But it may be an uphill battle, U.S. officials concede. "On Iraq, it is never easy in the Security Council. There is broad agreement on what needs to be done, but the devil is in the details. We don't see the same ideological division we have witnessed over the last 16 to 18 months because we have come back full circle to accepting a very expansive U.N. role," said a U.S. diplomat involved in the negotiations on a new resolution.

The administration hopes even foes of the war, particularly France, Russia and Germany, will eventually go along with the resolution, if only for fear of the alternative if it doesn't pass, U.S. officials say.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on the UN Role in Post-War Iraq


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