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Iraq: London, Washington Appear To Differ Over Post-Transfer Control Of Foreign Forces

  • Charles Recknagel --> Differences appear to have broken out between the United States and Britain over how much political control a sovereign Iraqi government should have over foreign troops. British Prime Minister Tony Blair says sovereignty means foreign troops would need the Iraqi government's consent to launch attacks against insurgents in towns such as Al-Fallujah. But top U.S. officials say American troops must retain the authority to take actions to ensure security and defend themselves.

Prague, 26 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Washington and London appear divided over how much control Iraq's new government should have over foreign forces as the deadline nears for the 30 June transfer of power.

The differences surfaced publicly yesterday as European leaders reacted to a U.S.-led draft resolution seeking the UN's endorsement of the coming interim Iraqi government. Washington wants the resolution to provide international recognition that it is returning sovereignty to the Iraqi people while retaining responsibility for security.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he views full sovereignty for the coming Iraqi government as including potential veto power over military operations by multinational security forces.
Blair's statement echoes a long-standing British position that effective counterinsurgency operations in Iraq must include Iraqi public support -- including that of any sovereign government.

Speaking in London yesterday, Blair said that "final political control" in particularly sensitive operations remains with the Iraqi government: "If there is a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Fallujah in a particular way, that has to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government, and the final political control remains with the Iraqi government. And that's what the transfer of sovereignty means. It doesn't mean that our troops are going to be ordered to do something our troops don't want to do; that remains as it is now."

Blair's statement is one of the first by any European leader to specifically spell out what should happen in military situations where the new Iraqi government and multinational forces might find themselves in disagreement.

Many members of Iraq's current U.S.-appointed administration, the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), opposed Washington's use of heavy firepower against insurgents in Al-Fallujah last month. Iraqi leaders called instead for negotiations as up to 1,000 civilians were reported injured in the fighting.

The statement from London -- Washington's closest ally in Iraq -- appeared to diverge from Washington's position that U.S. forces must retain ultimate authority for Iraq's security after 30 June.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said later in the day that he saw "no disagreement" in how Britain and America view the multinational forces' relations with the coming Iraqi government because the U.S. intends the relationship to be based on consent.

But the top U.S. diplomat also said U.S. forces will "do what is necessary to protect themselves" in response to attacks: "Obviously, we would take into account whatever [the interim Iraqi government] might say at a political or military level. And to make sure that that happens, we will be creating coordinating bodies, political coordinating bodies and military-to-military coordinating bodies, so that there is transparency with respect to what we are doing."

Powell continued, "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 at a particular moment in time, U.S. forces remain under U.S. command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves."

The U.S. daily "The New York Times" says today that Blair's statement "appears to have been timed to influence the Bush administration and American military commanders in the field, who are regarded by British officials as too reliant on brute force in trying to pacify Iraq."

The paper notes that a recently leaked British Foreign Office memo "makes the case that British officials 'need to redouble our efforts to ensure a sensible and sensitive U.S. approach to military operations.'"

Paul Cornish of the Department of War Studies at King's College in London says that Blair's statement echoes a long-standing British position that effective counterinsurgency operations in Iraq must include Iraqi public support -- including that of any sovereign government.

"There was a scene where the American commander outside Fallujah at one stage said, 'I am going to deal with this counterinsurgency in the following way: I'll withdraw my troops, and if it doesn't settle down, if it doesn't sort itself out, then I will deal with the counterinsurgency by massive use of armed force.' And in the British approach, that is just a contradiction in terms. You cannot deal with a counterinsurgency in this way because it is just pouring fuel on the fire."

Several European capitals have demanded the draft UN resolution -- which was published 24 May -- more clearly spell out the coming Iraqi government's relation to foreign security forces.

The draft resolution says the UN "decides the multinational force shall have authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq" and requests members states and international security organizations to contribute assistance, including military forces, to securing Iraq.

Addressing the role of the coming sovereign government, the draft resolution says the UN recognizes "the importance of the consent of the sovereign government of Iraq for the presence of the multinational forces and of close coordination between the multinational force and that government."

French President Jacques Chirac, speaking by phone with U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday, asked for changes to the draft resolution. Chirac's office did not detail the requested changes, but said "the transfer of sovereignty must be real and perceived as such by the Iraqis themselves."

France and Russia have said that before they vote to give international recognition to the interim Iraqi government, they also want to know who will comprise it and how fully it represents the country's diverse communities.

The UN's special envoy for Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, is leading efforts to form the new government in consultation with prominent Iraqis, UN members, and Washington. News reports say he could name the government's top figures by the end of the month.

It is unclear how Blair's remarks might now contribute to the pressure on Washington to revise some of the wording of the draft resolution. That pressure includes criticism from Iraq's current U.S.-appointed leadership. IGC President Ghazi al-Yawar said yesterday that the draft resolution falls short of Iraqi expectations for sovereignty.

"We in the Governing Council, [after] the first reading of the American draft, or a proposal for a draft resolution which was submitted yesterday, we found it less than our expectations," he said.

Al-Yawar said the Iraqi government should even have the right to ask foreign troops to leave Iraq, though he said such forces are needed to stabilize the country at the moment: "The Iraqi government has the right to ask [foreign] troops to leave Iraq. But we, as Iraqis, see that we need these forces to stay in Iraq now."

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday "the relationship between the interim government and the multinational force will be spelled out in a letter."

McClellan also said that Bush had promised separately to Chirac that the U.S. would make "adjustments" to the UN draft resolution. He provided no additional details.

British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott today dismissed press reports suggesting that Blair's remarks represented significant differences with Washington. He acknowledged, however, that "interpretations" and "negotiations" on the issue are continuing around the draft UN resolution.

He told reporters in London: "There's a matter of negotiation and interpretation already under way, and until that's concluded, I suggest you await your judgments on that."