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UN: Intense Security Council Debate Looms Over UN Role In Iraq

  • Robert McMahon

The United States has begun formal discussions with UN Security Council members on a resolution aimed at improving security in Iraq. Many Security Council members have signaled they want to see an explicit broadening of the UN mandate in Iraq. But U.S. officials do not appear ready to turn over any control of the administration of Iraq to the UN.

United Nations, 22 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- UN Security Council members are engaged in what is likely to be another round of intense negotiations on Iraq, this time prompted by the terrorist attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad.

Representatives of the 15-member council yesterday began formal talks on a new resolution that would address security concerns in Iraq. The council has condemned the 19 August attack as an act of terrorism and reaffirmed the need for the United Nations to continue to help in Iraq's reconstruction.

But there is an apparent gulf between the United States and Britain -- the coalition powers running Iraq -- and most other council members on the extent of the UN's role.

U.S. and British officials say the new resolution should stress the need for more international contributions to security and reconstruction in Iraq. They say the United States must retain command of any forces deployed in Iraq.

But a majority of council members said in a meeting yesterday that the UN role must be expanded. Countries such as France and India have said they will not commit troops to the Iraqi multinational force without a broader UN mandate.

France's deputy ambassador to the UN, Michel Duclos, told the council that burden-sharing in Iraq requires sharing information and authority. He also called for a clear timeline on the end of the military occupation of Iraq, a point echoed by many council members.

Pakistan's UN ambassador, Munir Akram, whose country has been asked to contribute to the coalition forces, stressed the importance of raising the UN's profile.

"We are convinced that the United Nations will have to assume a larger and wider role in Iraq in order, inter alia, to enhance legitimacy and the acceptability of the endeavors of the international community to bring stability and progress to Iraq," Akram said.

Germany was considering providing assistance to political reforms, said deputy UN ambassador, Wolfgang Trautwein. But he said the United Nations should steer the political process:

"The more this role of the United Nations is strengthened, the more credibility and local, regional as well as international support it will gain," Trautwein said.

Earlier yesterday, UN Secretary of State Colin Powell met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to review ways of safeguarding the UN's mainly humanitarian staff in Iraq.

Afterward, Powell said "the issue of ceding authority" to the UN was not discussed. He said the coalition force in Iraq is already multinational, with 30 countries having committed about 22,000 troops, and is looking to expand that effort.

"We are looking forward to language [in a new Security Council resolution on Iraq] that might call on member states to do more, but the [U.S.] president has always felt that the UN has a vital role to play and he has said that repeatedly. It is playing a vital role," Powell said. "That is what Sergio [Vieira de Mello] and his colleagues were doing. And so we are now just exploring language with our Security Council colleagues."

Vieira de Mello, the chief UN envoy in Iraq, and at least 22 other people were killed in the truck bomb attack on 19 August. He had been playing an increasingly influential role in Iraqi political reforms, pressing the coalition to accelerate the handover of power to Iraqi officials.

Annan said the United Nations would remain active in Iraq's economic and political reconstruction. But he stressed that the coalition was responsible for security arrangements.

Annan urged council members to find common ground to get a consensus reinforcing the roles of the UN and the coalition in Iraq.

"An Iraq that is destabilized, an Iraq that is in chaos is not in the interest of the region or the world, and we do have a responsibility to ensure [stability]," he said.

Annan is to meet today with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to continue consultations on improving security for the United Nations in Iraq.

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