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Iraqi Foreign Minister Calls For Genuine Transfer Of Sovereignty

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations, 4 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's foreign minister has urged the UN Security Council to ensure an "unambiguous" transfer of sovereignty to Iraq that assures the interim government some influence over the U.S.-led multinational force.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the council the resolution they are debating on Iraq's restoration of sovereignty must invest full authority in the interim government to run Iraq's affairs, including security matters.

At the same time, Zebari said, Iraq's fledgling security structures require a robust international presence to prevent what he called chaos and the threat of civil war.

He said Iraqi authorities and the international forces must strike a balance in their relationship after the 30 June transfer of power.

"It is an objective reality in Iraq today that we require the continued assistance and partnership of these troops," Zebari said. "But we also need this presence to be regulated under arrangements that neither compromise the sovereignty of the interim government nor the right of the multinational force to defend itself."

Speaking later to reporters, Zebari offered a scenario in which Iraqi consent would be needed for large-scale military operations.

"If there are some major offensive military operations that will have political and security implications on the country as a whole, definitely the views of the Iraqi interim government should be taken into consideration and we should have a say in endorsing this kind of operation," Zebari said.

The new draft resolution circulated by the United States and Britain earlier this week includes a revision that would give the caretaker government control of the Iraqi Army and police. It also adds language that says the mandate for a multinational force will conclude at the end of the political process, expected to culminate by January 2006.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte said the U.S.-led coalition will discuss a broad range of issues with Iraqi leaders in the days ahead, with special focus on security arrangements.

Negroponte stressed that the 30 June transfer of sovereignty would be genuine.

"This will be a true partnership, founded on shared goals and tangible cooperation at all levels -- from the soldiers on foot patrols to the highest levels of two sovereign governments," Negroponte said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview with the Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Center that was aired late on 2 June, stressed Iraq's interim government will have no veto over future coalition military operations.

Powell said there could be a situation where coalition forces "have to act to protect ourselves or to accomplish a mission" regardless of whether there is disagreement with Iraqi leaders.

U.S. officials want to address security arrangements in an exchange of letters with Iraqi officials. A number of Security Council members want those arrangements specified in the resolution. It was not immediately clear from Zebari's comments yesterday whether a letter exchange would be sufficient to deal with security issues.

But Zebari turned aside suggestions from Security Council members Germany and France that the resolution include a fixed date for the end of the force mandate.

"A call for the immediate withdrawal or a fixed deadline or timetable would be very, very unhelpful," Zebari said. "[It] could be used by those enemies really to complicate the problems even further. As we are ready to assume responsibility, it can be done as soon as possible."

Zebari also urged the council to endorse the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), which was ratified by the Iraqi Governing Council in March to serve as the legal basis for Iraq until a new constitution is completed next year.

The draft resolution does not mention the law. Zebari said it is essential for the country's political process. But including the reference to the law could cause frictions with the country's majority Shi'a population, which objects to the interim constitution.

Earlier this spring, there were reports that influential Shi'a leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declared his opposition to any mention of the interim constitution in a UN resolution. Zebari told reporters yesterday he was not aware of that.

Britain's UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, said Iraqis would need to sort out the issue amongst themselves.

"Whether or not the TAL is included is frankly an issue more for the Iraqis," Jones Parry said. "If the Iraqis want it included, if they believe that there's a net benefit, then logically it should go in. But they will need to touch base to make sure that they think that is the best judgment for Iraq."

Al-Sistani issued a statement yesterday in which he said the new government does not represent "in an acceptable manner all segments of Iraqi society and political forces," but nonetheless gave the body his conditional approval.
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