United Nations, 25 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Five weeks before the restoration of Iraq's sovereignty, debate is intensifying over the degree of control interim authorities will have over military operations on Iraqi soil.
The draft resolution put forward yesterday by the United States and Britain at the UN Security Council leaves unclear the nature of the relationship between the U.S.-led multinational force and the new caretaker government.
"I believe the chance is good because the mood in the Security Council is constructive."
Council members say the relationship will need to be clarified -- probably with newly appointed Iraqi interim leaders -- before the resolution can be adopted.
The resolution calls for the Security Council to endorse sovereignty for the new interim Iraqi government. The multinational force, it says, will have authority to take "all necessary measures" to maintain security and stability in Iraq.
But the resolution also says there should be Iraqi consent for the presence of foreign troops and close coordination between the government and force leaders. On another key issue, the resolution gives the interim authorities control of oil revenues, subject to international audit.
The deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, said the resolution stresses Iraqi control over their own affairs.
"The important thing is that the political responsibility for taking decisions for the presence of the [multinational force], for the development of a constitution, for the development of the political process [is] going into Iraqi hands. It's not the Security Council telling them how to do it. It's for them, it's their process," Cunningham said.
The measure says the force mandate shall be reviewed after 12 months or at the request of the Iraqi government chosen in direct elections within seven months of the handover.
The resolution does not set a date for forces to leave, nor does it indicate Iraqi authorities can order those forces to leave. Cunningham acknowledged this, but repeated U.S. assurances that the force would comply with any interim government request to leave.
"There is nothing in the resolution that says anybody has the authority [to order troops away], but we have said -- the United States has said -- we will leave if there is a request from the government to leave," Cunningham said.
Prominent Iraqis have repeatedly said they will need the multinational force -- which currently stands at 138,000 U.S. soldiers and some 22,000 coalition troops -- to keep order while they prepare for direct elections. Security Council members agree that the force will be needed to maintain security, especially to protect a UN mission expected to guide the political transition.
But a number of diplomats said yesterday that the draft resolution does not adequately spell out relations between the caretaker government and the force. Some have raised concerns about the ability of Iraqi authorities to influence operations, such as the coalition's offensives this spring in Al-Fallujah and Al-Najaf.
The representative of the lone Arab state on the Security Council, Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, told RFE/RL that the resolution should spell out the military interaction in such cases.
"I think it is good to make it clear how these forces are going to operate in conjunction with the government and envisage different situations," Baali said.
Security Council members have raised concern that an unclear mandate could feed impressions that a military occupation is continuing beyond 30 June.
China's UN ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters the resolution should set a timeframe shorter than 12 months for review of the multinational force mandate. He said Iraqi sovereignty has to be "real and comprehensive.”
"In the view of China, we feel the sovereignty, as far as Iraqis are concerned, has to cover political, economic, natural resources, judiciary, and also cover the military side," Guangya said.
Security Council members say talks are still at an early stage and major progress will only come after a briefing by chief UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi later this week.
Brahimi is in Iraqi finalizing the preparations for forming the interim government. He plans to name top members of that government -- after conferring with U.S. officials in Iraq -- by 30 May.
Algerian Ambassador Baali said he expects the resolution to be voted on in late June after Security Council members have had a chance to confer with Iraqi interim leaders.
"It is very, very important that we seek the opinion, the views and the advice of the government-in-waiting. I think it is important that we know exactly what they want, which kind of security arrangements with the [multinational force], which kind of mandate they need from the United Nations," Baali said.
The ambassadors of Security Council states Germany and Chile said they expect current differences over the resolution to be resolved in time for the sovereignty transfer.
German Ambassador Guenter Pleuger said the draft resolution provides a "good basis for discussion" and that he expects a consensus to be reached.
"I believe the chance is good because the mood in the Security Council is constructive, is united under the common goal of stabilizing Iraq to help bring about conditions for improving political and economic reconstruction. And with goodwill, it is presumed that a good consensus decision can be reached in the Security Council. That is the desire of everyone," Pleuger said.
Germany is among a small group of countries helping train Iraqi police in the Gulf area. It has not committed to any post-transfer force.
U.S. officials hope for more contributions to the multinational force after sovereignty is formally transferred to Iraqis.