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Iraq: Is International Recognition Next Step For Governing Council?

The UN chief, Kofi Annan, has urged the UN Security Council to recognize Iraq's new Governing Council. How close is the U.S.-appointed body to getting international recognition, and what benefits would this bring?

Prague, 6 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The call from Kofi Annan came yesterday as the UN secretary-general headed into a private lunch with Security Council members. Annan urged the council to recognize Iraq's new Governing Council, set up last month with U.S. backing.

But it's a sensitive and divisive issue. The Security Council's 15 permanent members couldn't even agree on a draft statement welcoming the new body as a first step to a more permanent government for Iraq.

The Iraqi Governing Council sent a delegation to the UN two weeks ago, but the three-person team received a cautious, rather than a warm, welcome.

And the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said yesterday the only legitimate Iraqi government that can be recognized is one that emerges after elections planned for next year. "The council -- the [Iraqi] transitional Governing Council -- is considered a step forward or a start that must pave the way for establishing a legitimate national Iraqi government that can be recognized and communicated with," he said.

Paul Cornish, head of London's Center for Defense Studies, told RFE/RL that recognizing the Iraqi council as a legitimate representative body would be an "after-the-event, cheap-man's mandate" for the U.S.-led war and occupation. But he said it's got to happen at some point -- and that the alternative would be "terrible."

"It would be terrible if over the next 12 months or so there were not some formal encouragement from the international community to the Iraqis," he said. "We've all been promising them so much and here they are finally beginning to get going and we're turning round and saying, 'We don't like the way things have gone so you're not going to get any approval.'"

Chief among the benefits of international recognition would be to free up what Cornish called "latent good will and assistance." In other words, countries that opposed the Iraq war would be more likely to help in efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country if the new authority has greater international legitimacy.

India and Russia, for example, say they won't send troops for a multinational stabilization force without a UN mandate -- though this could mean a fresh Security Council resolution giving the UN a much greater role in Iraq.

"It really is to do with freeing up those governments around the world who have been looking at this and saying, 'We can't do anything to aid in any reconstruction projects because the whole thing is tainted by being an American imperial adventure, and until it's untainted in some way we're not freed up to start helping, whether it may be through humanitarian aid or providing a police force or improving the law and order arrangements in Iraq.' As far as the political stability of the [Governing Council] locally within Iraq and its image more broadly in the region, again it needs all the help it can get and if it doesn't get it, it will carry on looking like a U.S. puppet that is in a delicate, fragile position," Cornish said.

Barry Buzan is a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. He said the lack of international recognition also makes the council more vulnerable to its opponents. "It doesn't have a legal face, it's not a proper member of international societies, so it's difficult for it to do things to be represented and to have legal standing in various kinds of international bodies. And it makes it more vulnerable to opposition tactics that say this is an entirely illegitimate outfit and should be opposed by force," he told RFE/RL.

Any backing from the UN could go some way toward satisfying critics who have argued for broader international involvement in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. But it could dismay other critics as putting a UN stamp on an occupation they don't agree with.

That's why Cornish said a move to recognize the council could be a compromise -- giving sufficient UN legitimacy to the council, but no retrospective approval for the war. "What you're asking the [Security] Council to do is recognize what's good -- that's to say that there is an Iraqi constitutional arrangement, made up of Iraqis, and they're doing their best and all these sorts of good things that we can all approve of. What you're not asking the [Security] Council to do is to approve of what they didn't approve of in the past, which is a U.S.[-led] intervention," he said.