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Iraq: Security Council 'Welcomes' Governing Council As Step Toward Sovereignty

  • Robert McMahon

The UN Security Council has approved a resolution welcoming the emergence of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Some Security Council members expressed regret that the resolution did not establish a timeline for ending the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. But a majority of members said the Governing Council marked a move in the right direction, toward restoring Iraqi sovereignty. The resolution also established a new UN mission in Iraq that is expected to gain a larger political role and potentially broaden contributions to Iraq's reconstruction.

United Nations, 15 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's month-old Governing Council has received a vote of confidence from the United Nations Security Council to help carry forward efforts toward building a sovereign government in Iraq.

Security Council Resolution 1500, which passed 14-0 yesterday, with one abstention, stopped short of recognizing the Governing Council as the legitimate representative of Iraq.

The United States had initially proposed that the Security Council endorse the Iraqi body. The final resolution instead "welcomes" the creation of the Governing Council as an important step to the formation, by Iraqis, of "an internationally recognized representative government that will exercise the sovereignty of Iraq."

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, told reporters that the resolution is a strong indication of progress towards eventual Iraqi self-rule.

"There was a negotiation about the degree to which the council will be endorsed by the resolution," he said. "But we think this is good language. It's strong language, and it corresponds exactly with what United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended."

U.S. officials appointed the 25-member body, drawing representatives from across Iraq's range of religious, ethnic, and political groups. The council has the power to name interim ministers and handle governance issues, but its decisions can be vetoed by the administrator of the U.S.-led coalition, L. Paul Bremer.

UN officials have said the council is the most representative body currently possible in Iraq. Annan last week urged the Security Council to formally accept its formation.

Syria, the lone Arab member on the Security Council, was the only country not to vote for the resolution. Syria's ambassador, Mikhail Wehbe, said his country chose to abstain because it believed only Iraqis could judge the legitimacy of their government.

"Syria hopes that any future discussions and resolutions on Iraq would deal in a more comprehensive manner with the real concerns of the Iraqi people, and finding a solution that guarantees the end of occupation -- this is the most important -- and enables the Iraqi people to exercise their sovereignty through genuinely and broadly representative, nationally elected government," Wehbe said.

French UN representative Michel Duclos also said the resolution should have included a timetable for the return of Iraqi self-government, which UN officials had recommended in a Security Council briefing last month.

Mexico's UN ambassador, Adolfo Zinser, stressed that the Security Council could not formally endorse the Iraqi body because it was operating under the direction of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

But most Security Council members said the resolution marked a move forward. Germany's deputy ambassador to the UN, Wolfgang Trautwein, said it would contribute toward finding a common path to help restore Iraqi sovereignty.

"It marks, from our point of view, the beginning of a process which should lead to a more even balance of responsibilities among the United Nations respectively, the international community, and the Coalition Provisional Authority, in the common effort to rebuild Iraq economically and with respect for democratic values and the rule of law," Trautwein said.

Yesterday's resolution also establishes the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. As outlined by Annan, it will set up a 300-member civilian mission that will eventually take over humanitarian duties from the oil-for-food program and oversee issues such as human rights, judicial reform, and guidance on elections.

The chief UN representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, has already begun working closely with the Governing Council.

This kind of engagement will be crucial in establishing the council's legitimacy, says David Phillips, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations on nation-building efforts in Iraq.

"The UN has a key role in helping the Governing Council stand up and deliver activities, particularly in the area of developing the constitutional commission and in working with the Iraqi Governing Council to develop a strategy for local elections and ultimately -- based on the finding of the constitution -- the national elections," Phillips said.

Phillips told RFE/RL it's crucial that the UN have an influential role in Iraqi political developments. A lead United Nations role in advising the Governing Council, Phillips said, will help build support for an international donors conference for Iraq set for October.

U.S. officials have pointed to mounting reconstruction costs for Iraq and the need for broader international support at venues like the donors conference.

Phillips said Washington's willingness to share rebuilding efforts with the UN should boost international support for Iraq's stabilization and reconstruction.

"This resolution affirms the importance of burden-sharing and sets the stage for a series of cooperative measures, culminating with the donors conference in October, that will have a huge impact in getting Iraq heading in the right direction," Phillips said.

But yesterday's resolution did not assign any lead role to the UN in Iraq's reconstruction, as had been sought by countries such as France.

France and India, which both opposed the Iraq war, said a more central UN role would encourage more governments to send peacekeepers and financial support for the rebuilding of Iraq.