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UN: Iraqi Council Makes Appeal For Support

  • Robert McMahon

Iraq's first representative postwar body has appeared before the United Nations Security Council to make the case that it is a valid partner for the international community. The Iraqi group vowed to act quickly to help establish a democratically elected government. U.S. and UN officials urged international support for the new council as a transitional body that will lead to a permanent government. But it was not immediately clear whether the body will gain broad acceptance.

United Nations, 23 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's new Governing Council has appealed for international support to guide the country through the complicated process of political reform and reconstruction.

Delegates of the council made their first international appearance on 22 July in the UN Security Council. UN officials and Security Council members welcomed the group, but did not recommend it for official UN recognition.

The spokesman for the delegation, former diplomat Adnan Pachachi, said he was speaking on behalf of Iraqis.

Pachachi said Iraq would never again return to a society of fear and injustice, but he acknowledged the growing frustration in the country about security and general living conditions. He said the new Governing Council would have to earn the support of Iraqis.

"The responsibilities facing us are enormous indeed and the responsibilities of the Governing Council are too many, difficult and diverse," Pachachi said. "One cannot underestimate the great responsibility borne by members of this council. We shall be in need of full support by the Iraqi people and we have to demonstrate to the people of Iraq our credibility, our merit in leading them in this historic process."

Pachachi said the council aimed to make the interim administration brief and to swiftly bring about free and fair elections. Among its plans, he said, was to employ and train 30,000 police, open at least 1,500 schools and clinics, pay back salaries to government employees, and re-train more than 200,000 demobilized soldiers.

The Iraqi council has the power to appoint interim officials, set budgets and propose policies. But the U.S.-led coalition can veto its decisions.

Pachachi and Ahmed Chalabi, another delegate, later told reporters that the council will soon begin appointing ministers, including those responsible for foreign affairs and oil. They said the 25-member council is also in the process of drafting rules defining its leadership.

The council has already come under criticism in Iraq from both Sunni and Shi'a Muslim clerics, who deride it as a political tool of the U.S.-led occupying authority.

Chalabi told reporters that international backing was crucial.

"It is very important also that we get the support of the United Nations, of the regional countries in the Middle East and also particularly of our neighbors. We need them to be more positive about what is going on in Iraq," Chalabi said.

Earlier, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, told the Security Council of the need for quickly restoring sovereignty to Iraqis. They called on the Coalition Provisional Authority to establish a clear timetable for the end of its occupation.

They said the Iraqi council was a key first step, to be followed by a constitutional process and democratic elections. Vieira de Mello worked with U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer on the formation of the council and repeatedly defended it yesterday as the most representative body possible for Iraq at this stage.

He told the Security Council the new body marks a turning point for the country away from its chaotic postwar period.

"For decisions of national importance to be authoritative, they must be seen to be the product of Iraqi decision-making, of as representative a nature as is possible. With the formation of the governing council, we now enter a new stage that succeeds the disorienting power vacuum that followed the fall of the previous regime," Bremer said.

Vieira de Mello outlined a series of proposals to expand UN influence in Iraq, in areas such as human rights, judicial reforms, and in the political transformation underway.

He said the United Nations can also lend "modest assistance" in restoring security. In particular, he said, it can assist with police development and has already received proposals for help from European Union countries and Argentina.

The UN envoy repeatedly stressed the viability of the council, which he promoted on a recent tour of Iraq's neighbors Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran.

He told reporters the council should be given a chance.

"What the council needs at present is not expressions of doubt. It is not skepticism. It is not criticism -- that is too easy in the circumstances. What it needs is Iraqi support, which it will gain, as I said, on its day-to-day activities and the decisions it will make, the cohesion it will display," Vieira de Mello said.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, also urged support for the Iraqi council. He said its formation is consistent with the Security Council requirement -- in Resolution 1483 -- to prepare the way for an elected Iraqi government: "The establishment of government by and for the Iraqi people as envisaged in Security Council Resolution 1483 is underway. This Governing Council deserves the full encouragement and support of the international community and especially this body."

Negroponte also repeated Washington's call for more UN member states to contribute to the coalition's security efforts. A number of states that opposed the war to oust Saddam Hussein have said they could only contribute to forces in Iraq under an explicit UN mandate.

Negroponte said Resolution 1483 appeals to member states to contribute to conditions of stability and security in Iraq. But French and German representatives yesterday repeated their call for a new resolution spelling out a leading role for the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq.

German ambassador Gunter Pleuger called for a multilateral reconstruction fund that would encourage donations from countries uneasy with contributing to a coalition fund.

"We believe that the creation of a separate international fund could dispel some concerns expressed by some members of the United Nations with regard to the [Development Fund for Iraq]," Pleuger said.

U.S. officials say Secretary of State Colin Powell has discussed the issue of formally expanding the UN mandate in Iraq with other foreign ministers and Annan.

(The new UN report on postwar Iraq can be seen at: OpenElement)