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UN: Iraqi Governing Council Takes First Steps Toward International Recognition

  • Robert McMahon

Prague, 24 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's first representative post-Saddam Hussein diplomatic body appeared before the United Nations Security Council this week to make the case that it is a valid partner for the international community. The Iraqi Governing Council vowed to act quickly to help establish a democratically elected government.

RFE/RL's UN correspondent, Robert McMahon, spoke about the group's official status, how it was received at the UN, and the prospects for a new Security Council resolution expanding the UN's mandate in Iraq.

Question: Was the Iraqi Governing Council delegations officially representing Iraq at the UN?

McMahon: No, it was not, actually. It was allowed to come to the Security Council under a Security Council procedure that allows them to basically invite whomever they want. They are considered prominent citizens of Iraq at this stage, officially, in the UN. Although they were welcomed by Security Council members as Iraqi representatives, it was not an official extension of any sort of recognition.

Question: The Governing Council was represented at the UN by Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister; Ahmad Chalabi, one of the founders of the Iraqi National Congress; and Akila al-Hashimi, a diplomat and one of three women on the council. How were they received by Security Council members?

McMahon: Security Council members in general welcomed the three delegates from the Iraqi Governing Council. They mentioned repeatedly that the process of Iraq's transition needs to be turned over to Iraqis. And there was generally implicit support for them because many of the Security Council members -- especially the ones that were against the war in Iraq -- decided to give their support to the UN secretary-general's report, which is just out this week, which called for supporting the Governing Council as a first step toward the return of sovereignty [to Iraq], to an Iraqi representative government. So there was implicit support through their support by the UN. The UN special envoy [Sergio Vieira de Mello], in particular, was very supportive of the Governing Council.

Question: What needs to happen now for them to become Iraq's official representative at the UN?

McMahon: That's a good question. This was the first appearance they made. It was considered an important first appearance. There were appeals from the U.S., from the UN, to recognize this group, this 25-member council, as at the moment the de facto representative of Iraq. And now it will be a matter of the Security Council perhaps coming out with some sort of a statement -- what they call a presidential statement -- which could indicate that it is officially recognizing this as Iraq's interim authority.

We should recall that the Security Council resolution that endorsed or that recognized the U.S.-British coalition as administering Iraq called for an interim authority to be established on the way toward a fully elected representative Iraqi government. So -- as the U.S. is saying and the Brits are saying -- this is the interim authority, and so they're saying, this is part one of this multistep process that will lead toward Iraqi sovereignty.

Question: Did the group come away from the UN with a greater sense of legitimacy?

McMahon: They were buoyed, first of all, by the ability to appear in the Security Council and make their case. There was obviously U.S. support. There was strong support from UN Secretariat officials -- this would be the special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, and [Secretary-General] Kofi Annan, as well -- [for this being an] important first step toward Iraqi sovereignty.

They welcomed all of that, but they also made an appeal -- Ahmad Chalabi in particular, one of the delegate members -- for Iraq's neighbors to show them more explicit support. Vieira de Mello has made a tour in the past week of Iraq's neighbors doing the same thing, and he made an appeal again yesterday that neighbors need to come forward and show their support. There's frustration, I think, that they have not.

Question: What can you tell me about the comments attributed to Chalabi, who said the Governing Council's attempt to take over Iraq's UN seat had been derailed by "the reservations of some of our neighbors." What did he mean?

McMahon: There have been reports that he was referring to Syria and that some other member of the delegation -- unnamed -- said Syria was causing the problem. Other UN officials, though, people who follow these types of issues in terms of formally recognizing delegations, said there really wasn't any preparation, nobody was really prepared to give this newly formed Iraqi Council full-fledged recognition. It was only formed less than two weeks ago. This was a first chance for everyone to see them in action and to have a series of meetings.

They did have a series of meetings here at the UN -- with the Arab Group, with the secretary-general. But nobody, again, according to some of the UN officials, nobody was ready to really offer formal recognition to them. Although they did make some important contacts with their somewhat dormant mission at the UN, which [former Iraqi UN ambassador] Muhammad al-Duri left several months ago, and there were meetings with the current charge d'affaires there.

And so some people do see this as the beginnings of what will be an interim administration that is recognized at the UN, perhaps in time for this fall's General Assembly session, which gets under way in September.

Question: Is there any sense that because the U.S. has veto power over any decisions made by the Governing Council, that some of Iraq's neighbors are never going to look at the council as truly representative of the will of the Iraqi people?

McMahon: Well, that's again why this meeting here was important. They did meet with some Arab representatives. Vieira de Mello has been pretty active in meeting with neighboring leaders. He went to Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia in the past week to shore up support there. There was nothing immediate in any way in endorsing the group.

A lot of people are taking a wait-and-see approach, but at the same time the UN and the U.S. are saying you need to give them some sort of initial support, give them the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, the strings attached to the U.S. are seen as damaging to this group. But by the same token, Vieira de Mello is saying there was no possibility of getting any more representative of a group than this one. The only people not represented on the council in terms of Iraqi constituents are Baathists, so he says it really should be given the benefit of the doubt, at the very least, at this moment.

Question: What are the prospects of a new Security Council resolution expanding the UN's mandate in Iraq?

McMahon: Well, we heard a lot of reiteration of positions by some of the council members who have been at odds on this issue. You had France and Germany clearly saying that there needs to be a resolution that, if anything else, expands the UN role in the reconstruction process -- basically putting the UN at the center stage or, at the very least, setting up a separate multilateral fund to which donors can contribute for reconstruction. They don't seem to trust the coalition in terms of being transparent in the way the funds are dispersed for Iraqi reconstruction. So there's that element.

There's also been this general call from countries that have been asked to send troops that they would like to see a formal explicit UN mandate that allows them to come in and support the coalition because of, again, the bad feelings -- especially domestically, in some of these countries -- about contributing to what is seen as the military occupation of Iraq. So you have that aspect.

But you still have the U.S. saying, "Look, [UN] Resolution 1483 gives this mandate. It says we welcome any contributions from countries to restore security and maintain stability in Iraq." The Spanish Foreign Minster [Ana Palacio] was here yesterday, presiding over the meeting. She said the same thing, although she said also we do not rule out going back and discussing a new resolution. And that has actually not been ruled out by U.S. officials either. But for the moment, they're saying the current resolution is enough.

Question: Didn't Vieira de Mello indicate that there doesn't necessarily need to be a new UN resolution?

McMahon: Interestingly, Vieira de Mello made clear in several references yesterday that he sees plenty of room for maneuver -- for the UN especially -- in the current resolution. It was fairly open-ended in terms of its mention of the UN role. As always, the UN has a great humanitarian role to play, but also the UN special representative is seen as a facilitator in the political reform process. The UN is seen as helping out perhaps in the training of a new judiciary, of human rights officers, police and so forth.

And police was actually one security area where Vieira de Mello said the UN could play what he called a "modest role," which would be training -- what they call capacity building -- the training of a police force, which the UN has done in numerous areas -- Kosovo, to name one. And so this could be the way we see this developing in the weeks ahead, is that you see this expansion, at least of the UN role, in terms of taking more precedence in terms of training and shepherding through a new political process.

But at the same time, you could also see a new resolution in the making because of the October donor conference, and a new resolution could be seen as an important stepping stone to really opening up the spigots for countries to contribute under a broad UN mantle.