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U.S. Urges International Support For UN Protection Force In Iraq

United Nations, 16 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations urged member states today to contribute to a multinational force that would protect UN political experts assisting Iraq.

Ambassador John Negroponte said in remarks to the UN Security Council that the force is needed to bolster an increasingly important UN role in Iraq's political transition. "I do not overstate the broad desire within the international community for the United Nations to return to Iraq to play an expansive, robust, and vital role, in particular after the 30 June transition," he said.

Pakistan and India are among the countries considering the request for a UN protection force. Negroponte said it is possible some countries do not want to make a final decision until the transfer of sovereignty takes place.

Negroponte said there is widespread support for adhering to the 30 June power-transfer date despite the clashes that have erupted in recent weeks. He told reporters that Security Council members shared the U.S. and Iraqi desire to return sovereignty to Iraqis as soon as possible.

"As long as an adequate and acceptable mechanism can be found to establish a transitional government to whom to restore that exercise of sovereignty on the first of 1 July that process will go forward and there's a strong commitment to achieving that," Negroponte said.

In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged today to help create a free, independent, and peaceful Iraq and signaled their willingness to accept a UN plan for an interim government there. "We welcome the proposals presented by the UN special envoy [Lakhdar] Brahimi," Bush said. "He's identified a way forward to establishing an interim government that is broadly acceptable to the Iraqi people. Our coalition partners will continue to work with the UN to prepare for nationwide elections that will choose a new government in January of 2005."

In the Iraqi city of Kufa today, a chief opponent of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, warned that U.S. forces would not permit a proper return to sovereignty. "I want authority and sovereignty to be in the hands of honest Iraqis through elections, which is the demand of all the religious authorities and leadership, but there is no sovereignty under occupation and no government under occupation, and you should know that America will never leave Iraq," al-Sadr said.

Al-Sadr's militia continued its clashes with U.S. forces today near Kufa.

At UN headquarters, Negroponte told reporters that U.S. officials envisage all forces after the handover will be under command of U.S.-led troops. That includes any UN protection force as well as Iraqi forces. The ambassador said an upcoming Security Council resolution would make clear that the U.S. force is distinct from other stabilization forces.

Discussions on a new resolution are expected to accelerate after the return later this month of chief UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who just concluded a visit in Iraq with a range of different parties. Brahimi this week proposed that the Iraqi Governing Council be disbanded on 30 June and that a caretaker government be set up to guide Iraq for an interim period leading to elections in January.

Negroponte told reporters that Brahimi will be the main figure guiding the shaping of Iraq's transitional governing body. "Our thinking is very much that he's got the lead on this issue and his recommendations will carry a great deal of weight," he said.

Also today, a UN election team led by Carina Perelli completed several weeks of talks in Iraq. Perelli has recommended that the country set up an election commission composed of Iraqi experts and repeated concerns that the country would need to be more secure if elections can be held by the end of January 2005 as envisioned.