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Iraq: Interim Foreign Minister Appeals For UN Unity, Help In Transition

Iraq's interim foreign minister has urged the United Nations Security Council to move beyond its differences over the Iraq war and come to the aid of the struggling country. Hoshyar Zebari aimed some criticism of his own at the UN for permitting Saddam Hussein's regime to abuse Iraqis, but he also said Iraqis need UN help as they prepare to assume power in the next six months. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked for clear directions from Iraqis and the Security Council about the UN's political role in Iraq.

United Nations, 17 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- An Iraqi leader has launched a new dialogue with the UN Security Council aimed at triggering greater international support for Iraq's efforts to build a sustainable democracy.

The Iraqi interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, yesterday presented the timetable for a return to a sovereign government as agreed by the Iraqi Governing Council last month. Zebari punctuated his address with repeated calls for the Security Council to put aside its differences over the war in Iraq and unite to assist in its reconstruction.

The Iraqi foreign minister also criticized the United Nations for permitting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to prey on his people. "The UN as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years," he said. "And today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying [testament] to that failure. The UN must not fail [the] Iraqi people again."

France, Germany, and Russia have been outspoken critics of the war and withheld reconstruction and peacekeeping assistance. The United States, in turn, has excluded them from bidding on U.S.-funded contracts for Iraq's reconstruction.

Zebari said UN assistance is now crucial as Iraqi transitional leaders, under U.S.-led occupation, prepare a series of steps to gradually assume sovereignty within the next six months.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said earlier that security conditions will not permit the return of international experts to Iraq. But Zebari promised security, suggesting that the Iraqi Interior Ministry could help. "We are all, in fact, targets for those terrorists," he said. "So it's not just the UN, [it's also] the coalition and we the Iraqis, ordinary people. And we have to rise up to this challenge and to defeat the terrorists."

There were signs of support among some Security Council members for the Iraqi transitional plan, which envisions a series of regional caucuses early next year to choose a provisional assembly. At the same time, there were doubts expressed about holding direct elections instead of caucuses, as suggested by leading Shi'a Muslim cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Officials in the U.S.-led coalition are reported to be negotiating with al-Sistani on a way to bridge differences on the transitional plan.

France's UN ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, told reporters that the Iraqi political process must be inclusive and include all political actors who are against violence. He said he was encouraged by the approach outlined by Zebari. "It's an important step in the right direction. What was decided, and the agreement which was signed [on 15 November], was a change of approach to make it simple. It looks more like the Afghan approach, having as soon as possible a provisional government.," de La Sabliere said.

Germany's ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, reiterated his country's offer of training Iraqi police and army officers.

In a separate development yesterday that may signal greater cooperation, France, Germany, and the United States issued a statement saying they were prepared to offer significant debt relief to Iraq. Relief of Iraq's heavy debts amassed by Hussein is crucial to the country's recovery.

The capture of Hussein was seen as another positive step, although Security Council members do not believe it removes the threat of terrorist attacks in Iraq. Annan said the best way to undermine the resistance was to move forward with a credible, transparent transition process.

But he told reporters that Hussein's arrest may open the way toward greater international cooperation in Iraq. "There may be a new opportunity here, but it depends on how it is exploited by all concerned -- to mend fences, heal wounds and move forward," he said.

What would please most Security Council members is for the United Nations to be integrated into the political process soon, says Britain's UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry. But he told reporters he does not expect the United Nations to play a major role in Iraq until after the translation government assumes power, which is projected for 1 July 2004.

Jones Parry urged that council members should not press for perfection at the expense of a democratic process Iraq has not seen in decades. "What is being put in place is remarkable, given where Iraq has come from. But we cannot in the space of six months put in place a perfect, ideal democratic solution when there hasn't even been a [census] since, I think, 1959," Jones Parry said.

U.S. officials say they hope the council supports Iraq's plans for self-rule. But Ambassador John Negroponte said earlier this week he does not expect a request for a new resolution endorsing the process in the near future.