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Iraq: Governing Council Asks For UN Help, But Signals Are Mixed

  • Robert McMahon

http://gdb.rferl.org/156028D0-EAE7-4B6C-AB1E-9B09648AC0A8_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/156028D0-EAE7-4B6C-AB1E-9B09648AC0A8_mw800_mh600.jpg Officials from Iraq's Governing Council say they have sent the United Nations a letter asking for help in guiding Iraq's transitional political process. But it is not clear how much support for a UN role there is from influential Shi'a leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Meanwhile, continuing security problems, punctuated by another terrorist bombing, are likely to prevent any major UN efforts in Iraq in the near future.

United Nations, 18 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Iraqi Governing Council has agreed to ask the United Nations to assist in the process of setting up an interim government by 30 June, but there are reported to be reservations among key Shi'a leaders.

The council decided yesterday to formally ask for the UN's help. The next step would be another visit to Iraq by UN experts, led by special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, to begin discussions on a political road map.

"Security is a real constraint. It's a constraint not just for us. It's a constraint for reconstruction efforts."
But a revived UN role remains clouded by the position of some leaders of the majority Shi'a in Iraq. Ahead of yesterday's announcement, some Shi'a officials said they did not wish to see Brahimi return.

They were reported to be displeased with the report he issued last month advising against elections by 30 June, which had been sought by top Shi'a cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Brahimi's report said the earliest practical staging of elections should be eight months after a framework was agreed. That is a timeframe favored by Washington, which is to hand over power to Iraqis on 30 June.

Brahimi told reporters on 16 March that an aide to al-Sistani had sent a written message to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan saying the ayatollah was not associated with the negative comments from Shi'as directed toward the UN. But news agencies yesterday quoted aides to al-Sistani saying he never sent such a message.

The issue became further complicated yesterday when UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters that the message from al-Sistani to Annan was not in writing.

"When I saw that press report [on the denials] this morning, I asked Mr. Brahimi and he told me that it was a telephone message from an aide [working for] Ayatollah al-Sistani who said he was conveying a message from the ayatollah to the secretary-general," Eckhard said.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, Dan Senor, said yesterday that the invitation letter from the council would be accompanied by a similar one from the United States welcoming the return of the United Nations.

Annan told the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations this week that a UN team is poised to help Iraqis on constitutional and electoral issues.

"Once we go in, if they so desire, we will not limit ourselves to the efforts to establish a government by 30 June but go beyond that and hopefully work with them to establish the legal framework for the elections that will be required next year, the national elections, to establish a fully fledged and internationally recognized government," Annan said.

But Annan said any broader UN involvement -- such as institution-building and reconstruction -- would be contingent on the improvement of the precarious security situation. Annan's comments came one day before yesterday’s bombing in central Baghdad, which killed nearly 20 people.

"Security is a real constraint. It's a constraint not just for us. It's a constraint for reconstruction efforts. It's a constraint for average Iraqis in certain cities. Attempts being made to secure the environment are absolutely essential because if we do not secure the environment we are not going to be able to do all the wonderful things we've promised the Iraqis," Annan said.

The Security Council has passed resolutions authorizing the U.S.-led multinational occupation force in Iraq. But there will likely be a new council resolution endorsing the next phase of Iraq's political transition on 30 June and specifying the role of international military forces.

Spain's new Socialist leader says he would withdraw the country's 1,300 troops by 30 June if the United Nations does not assume a leading role legitimizing the international presence in Iraq.

A UN Security Council diplomat told RFE/RL yesterday that his mission considers the comments of the next Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, to be "more confusing than helpful."
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