Resolution has U.S., Britain running Iraq -- for now

Friday, May 9, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States and Britain launched a campaign Thursday for U.N. approval to run Iraq for at least a year, acknowledging for the first time that they are the "occupying powers" in the country.

The long-awaited U.S. draft resolution, to be introduced at the U.N. Security Council on Friday, outlines a U.S. vision for postwar Iraq sharply at odds with that of several Security Council members, particularly Russia.

It would limit the U.N. role, ending the world body's control over Iraq's oil revenue and letting the U.S.-led coalition use the country's vast oil wealth to help finance its reconstruction -- with international oversight.

The U.S. proposal, which was circulated Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press, calls for the immediate lifting of sanctions against Iraq and would phase out over a four-month period the oil-for-food humanitarian program, which has been feeding 90 percent of Iraq's 24 million people. It does not mention any role for U.N. weapons inspectors, whose return to Iraq Washington opposes.

The resolution would also endorse the authority of the United States and Britain to govern Iraq -- and it apparently foresees a lengthy stay. It notes that Washington and London sent a letter to the council president Thursday recognizing their responsibilities and obligations under international law "as occupying powers."

'Occupying power'

The letter is the first time the United States has referred to its role in Iraq as an "occupying power," a status governed by the Geneva Conventions that would entail wide-ranging responsibilities to look after the Iraqi people. Until now, Washington has avoided the term, calling itself instead a "liberating force."

Under the proposal, the 12-month initial authorization would be automatically renewed unless the Security Council decided otherwise. Since the United States and Britain have veto power in the council, they could block any attempt to get them to leave Iraq -- which is likely to be unacceptable to some council members.

The United States could also face opposition from council members that want the world body to be a major player in creating an interim government for Iraq. The draft resolution does not define the makeup or duties of a provisional government, which if approved would effectively leave it up to the United States and Britain to decide.

The U.S. draft resolution was given to some council members on Thursday and U.S. and British officials began lobbying for its approval in capitals of key council nations.

The council faces a deadline just four weeks from now when the current six-month phase of the oil-for-food program expires.

"Our view is that it's desirable to have this resolution passed as soon as possible, that the June 3 deadline for the expiry of the oil-for-food program is in fact very much the outer limit," said U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.

There is little enthusiasm for another bruising battle following the bitter debate earlier this year over the war itself, which shattered the council's unity and left France, Russia, Germany and China at odds with the United States, Britain and Spain.

Nonetheless, council diplomats predict a tough round of negotiations. Russia and France have made their own proposals.

Russia wants U.N. weapons inspectors to return to Baghdad to certify that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated before sanctions are lifted. It also wants the oil-for-food program continued under U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's authority until Iraq has a legitimate government and sanctions are lifted.

"We believe it's still valid," Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said Thursday of the proposal.

The French proposal calls on the council to suspend sanctions, phase out the oil-for-food program, have U.S. and U.N. weapons inspectors work together, and lift sanctions when a legitimate Iraqi government is in place.

The American draft calls on Annan to appoint a U.N. special coordinator to work with U.S. and British authorities and the Iraqi people to restore and establish "national and local institutions for representative governance."

The coordinator would also promote the delivery of humanitarian aid, the return of refugees, reconstruction, human rights, legal and judicial reform and rebuilding of an Iraqi police force.

The U.S. draft resolution would lift the economic embargoes the council imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait but maintain the arms embargo.

The oil-for-food program was created in 1996 to help ordinary Iraqis cope with sanctions, allowing Iraq to sell oil and requiring it to use the proceeds to buy food and medicine under U.N. monitoring.

The U.S. draft resolution would continue Annan's control over humanitarian contracts during the four-month phase-out, to speed badly needed food and medicine to Iraq.

When the oil-for-food program ends, the United States and Britain want the food distribution to continue under the Iraqi provisional administration, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

On the oil side, Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization would be restructured and resume selling oil, the diplomats said.

Proceeds would go into an "Iraqi Assistance Fund," which would be controlled by the United States and Britain, though the Iraqi interim authority would be consulted. Annan, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and a team of international auditors they select would oversee the fund, according to the draft.

The money would be used for humanitarian goods, reconstruction, civil administration and the continued disarmament of Iraq.

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