U.S. presents post-occupation plan for Iraq

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States on Monday unveiled its long-awaited post-occupation plans for a sovereign interim government in Iraq and got a generally positive response. But it faced questions about how much say Iraqis will have over U.S.-led forces that will keep the peace.

The U.S. presentation of a draft U.N. resolution on Iraq sets the stage for intense negotiations with longtime critics of the Iraq war, such as France and Germany, who are demanding a greater role for Iraq's interim government in security issues.

France said Monday it wants a timetable for the Iraqi government to take control over Iraqi police and security forces, which under the draft would remain under American control.

Under the resolution, the mandate for U.S.-led forces in Iraq would be reviewed after a year -- or even earlier if a transitional government due to take power after January elections requests it.

U.S. and British officials said details of the relationship between the interim government due to take power on June 30 and the multinational force will be spelled out in an exchange of letters with the new government, once it is formed.

A British official said London hopes the letters will create a National Security Committee on which Iraqis would sit, giving them veto power over major military operations -- like April's offensive in Fallujah that outraged many Iraqis. Germany has called for such a council as a vehicle for sharing power.

While the draft raises many security issues, the new government would take control of the country's oil and gas riches and the $10.2 billion Development Fund for Iraq where oil and gas revenue and frozen assets have been deposited. It is now run by the occupying powers.

The draft resolution, presented by the United States and Britain at a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday, would endorse the interim government, due to take power on June 30.

The draft also authorizes the more than 150,000-strong U.S.-led multinational force to stay in Iraq.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Secretary of State Colin Powell will keep his pledge to pull out U.S. troops if the interim government asks -- but this won't be incorporated in the resolution. Powell and other U.S. officials have said they don't think Iraqi leaders would make any such request.

Iraqi voice in question

But the draft doesn't answer the key question of how much of a voice that Iraq's new government -- which in theory will hold full sovereignty -- will have over the operation of the international or even Iraqi armed forces.

Many in Iraq and in Europe fear that the interim government due to take power in Iraq on June 30 will not be seen as legitimate if it doesn't have a credible voice in the operations of armed forces on its own soil.

Doubts over the government's legitimacy would undermine Washington's claims that the June 30 handover of power represents a major change in Iraq, with the official end of the U.S.-led occupation that many Iraqis resent.

In contrast to the acrimonious debate in late 2002 when France and Germany blocked U.S. efforts to win a U.N. mandate to invade Iraq, there were positive reactions and pledges to try to get unanimous approval for a resolution.

"I think we will have consensus -- but we're going to have to work hard," Chile's U.N. ambassador Heraldo Munoz said after Monday's meeting. Germany's U.N. ambassador Gunter Pleuger said the U.S.-British draft was "a good basis for discussion."

But Germany Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the new Iraqi government "must be able to make decisions over security issues or else it won't be truly sovereign."

A French diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, called the mood "constructive," but said the Americans would not be given "a blank check" in Iraq.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters that Paris seeks a timeline for handing over control of Iraqi armed forces. The Iraqi government should "in time" have "authority over police forces and the Iraqi army," he said.

In Baghdad, Mahmoud Othman, a Sunni Kurd member of the Governing Council, said the multinational forces should be under United Nations' command -- a possibility ruled out by the Americans.

"If that is not possible, then the Iraqi side must play an important role," Othman told the Arab television station Al-Jazeera. "Why cannot we have a joint command, Iraqi-American? Why only American? ... This is important to Iraqis."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Bush administration envisions that the multinational force would remain under the U.S. military control.

Washington will not seek a vote on the resolution for a week or two, until U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi finishes work on drawing up the interim government, a senior U.S. official said.

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