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Iraq: Powell Says U.S. Seeking Greater UN Role In Iraq

By Jeffrey Donovan and Robert McMahon

Signaling a possible major policy shift, the United States yesterday announced plans to attract more international troops and aid contributions to Iraq through a United Nations Security Council resolution giving the world body broader powers in that country.

Washington, New York; 4 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States is seeking support for a UN resolution that would allow more countries to join peacekeeping efforts in Iraq and outline a timetable for Baghdad's transition to self-governing democracy.

Facing a bloody insurgency in an occupation costing some $4 billion a month, Washington has for weeks sought to enlist foreign help to stabilize Iraq. But major nations such as France, India, and Turkey have insisted the UN be given more authority before they participate.

At a news conference in Washington yesterday, Powell signaled that the administration of President George W. Bush may be ready to grant the UN greater powers in Iraq, a move that would represent a significant shift in American policy.

He said the U.S. is circulating a resolution at the UN Security Council that would put the coalition forces in Iraq and any others who join them under a UN mandate with command remaining in American hands.

"The U.S. will remain the commander of the unified command [in Iraq] and there will be an element in the resolution that calls upon the United States, as the leader of the military coalition [in Iraq], to report on a regular basis to the United Nations," Powell said.

Powell said the resolution would call on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to provide a timetable for Iraq's transition to a self-governing democracy, including a schedule for drafting a constitution, building new government institutions, and holding free elections. The draft also endorses the Governing Council as the "principal body of an Iraqi interim administration."

He also said the UN would have an expanded role in reconstruction, but just how much power the world body would have remains unclear.

Powell said that given its huge commitment of troops and resources, the U.S. would retain a dominant role in post-Hussein Iraq. But he added: "A dominant role doesn't mean the only role. There are many roles to be played. And we believe that every peace-loving nation in the world, every nation that would like to see a more stable Middle East, that would like to see democracy arise in that part of the world, would want to play a role. Whether one might call it dominant or not dominant, it's important for us to come together as an international community."

Powell said he had explained the resolution to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

He said the initial reactions have been largely positive. But the measure as described is likely to face tough negotiations at the Security Council. For example, the council has welcomed but not formally recognized the Iraqi Governing Council, leaving doubts about its legitimacy.

And any resolution that authorizes a multinational force will require clear concessions from Washington to give the UN a central role in Iraq.

A working text of the U.S. draft has begun circulating to key Security Council members. Among other points, it asks Annan to ensure that UN resources are made available, if requested, to help establish an electoral process. It also calls on countries to contribute to the training and equipping of Iraqi police, and asks UN member nations to provide support for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq.

All 15 members are expected to discuss it later this week.

In New York, British UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, who presides over the Security Council this month, told a news conference that the goal of the new resolution was to bring about a united international front in Iraq.

"The aim, I repeat, is to bring together the commitment of the international community to make a success of Iraq, to heal any remaining divisions within the council and to carry us forward to a destination which would better assure peaceful resolution to the situation in Iraq," he said.

Other Security Council diplomats were generally reserved in their comments, waiting for further guidance from capitals which had yet to see the new proposal. One council diplomat from a state that opposed the Iraq war said: "There will be no sharing the burden without sharing the authority."

One key issue is likely to involve decision-making over contracts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and oil industry.

In Brussels, the United States, the European Union, Japan, the World Bank, and the UN are making plans for a donors' conference in Spain next month to induce countries to contribute to the rebuilding effort.

But some analysts warn that countries will not be willing to donate anything unless they have a say over how the money is spent.

Britain's Jones Parry acknowledged that the road ahead could involve tough bargaining at the Security Council.

"Clearly, we're going to have to be open, flexible, and listening to others out there who have key interests, not least to neighboring countries," he said.

After U.S. officials sound out opinion at the UN, the administration is expected to submit its resolution to the Security Council before Bush speaks in three weeks to the UN General Assembly in New York.

Coalition forces led by the United States invaded Iraq without explicit UN approval earlier this year. But after taking just three weeks to topple the regime of former President Saddam Hussein, the coalition has come under almost daily attacks and faces rising Iraqi anger over the failure to fully restore basic services, such as electricity.

Yesterday's announcement by Washington follows recent bombings of the UN's Baghdad headquarters and a major mosque in southern Iraq. The Bush administration has come under growing pressure at home -- especially from opposition Democrats keen to win back the White House in elections next year -- to open up the occupation to a greater UN role.

Leon Feurth was national security adviser to former Vice President Al Gore. Asked about the Bush administration's apparent bid to change course in Iraq, Feurth tells RFE/RL:

"We are into a presidential election season and the occupation has been a disaster. And nothing that the administration can do to conceal that fact is really working. So they need help -- otherwise, they wouldn't be prepared to dilute their present 100-percent authority in any form or fashion."

There were further signs this week that Washington may be stretched too thin in Iraq.

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)warned that the U.S. armed forces lack sufficient active-duty forces to maintain their current level of some 140,000 troops in Iraq beyond next March.

The report by the CBO, a research arm of the U.S. Congress, said that Washington would either have to create two new Army divisions to occupy Iraq or call up more reserve units, because the U.S. already has thousands of troops committed to South Korea and the Balkans. Senator John McCain, who recently visited Iraq, said that the effort to secure international assistance is "a tacit admission that we don't have the forces there to get the job done." A member of Bush's Republican Party, McCain added: "If we don't turn things around in the next few months, we are facing a very serious long-term problem."