- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s political leaders cautiously welcomed President Bush’s speech on their country’s future while warning yesterday that a U.S.-British proposal at the United Nations falls short of granting an incoming Iraqi government the degree of authority needed to win legitimacy at home.

With little more than five weeks remaining before the U.S.-led coalition transfers political power to a new Iraqi administration, members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council said the proposed U.N. resolution does not ensure enough Iraqi control over the U.S.-led multinational force spread countrywide.

They also said that the U.N. proposal fails to give Iraqis control of their nation’s oil revenues, which are being funneled into the Development Fund for Iraq.

“The question of the forces, how they stay and the authority of the Iraqi government over them, is very important: Will the soldiers have immunity to do whatever they like?” said council member Mahmoud Othman.

Wire services, quoting unnamed U.S. sources, reported late yesterday that the United Nations is expected to pick Hussain Shahristani, a Shi’ite nuclear scientist who spent years in Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam Hussein, as prime minister of the new interim Iraqi government.

The State Department would only confirm that Mr. Shahristani was one of three being considered for the post.

The U.S. plan to transfer limited authority to an Iraqi caretaker government on June 30 envisions the selection of a president, two vice presidents and a prime minister who would be responsible for administering the country until an election could be held.

If Mr. Shahristani’s selection is finalized, it would put the key administrative authority in Iraq in the hands of a Shi’ite for the first time in the modern era. Under Saddam, the minority Sunnis, rather than the majority Shi’ites, held political power.

President Bush outlined the turnover plan in a speech Monday.

The United States, with Britain, also circulated a draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council, which would give the as-yet-unnamed Iraqi government an endorsement from the world body.

Just how much authority the new government will receive prompted another round of confusing signals yesterday.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London that Iraq’s interim government would have a veto power over major operations by foreign troops.

“If there is a political decision to go into a place like Fallujah, that has to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government,” Mr. Blair said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said American forces in Iraq will remain under U.S. command and will “do what is necessary to protect themselves.”

“If it comes down to the United States armed forces protecting themselves or in some way accomplishing their mission in a way that might not be in total consonance with what the Iraqi interim government might want to do at a particular moment in time, U.S. forces remain under U.S. command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves,” Mr. Powell said.

Iraqi Defense Minister Ali Allawi said during a visit to London that coalition military forces were unlikely to be needed for long.

“The multinational force will need to be replaced by an indigenous force, an Iraqi force, in the course of a year,” he said in an appearance with British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.

In Baghdad, some in the 25-member Governing Council also were frustrated that the blueprint was laid before the United Nations without consulting with them.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was to head to New York today to present the council’s views.

“He’s going to have discussions with our friends in the States to have the best language” included in the resolution, so that terrorists in Iraq could not accuse the international community of hijacking the country’s sovereignty, said council member Yonadam Kanna.

“President Bush’s positive speech should be reflected in the resolution,” Mr. Kanna said.

“Iraqis must have a role, if not in the operation at least in the movement of the forces,” he said. “This is very important, because it is the strongest card in the hand of the terrorists, who have been pushing the emotions of the simple people to fight.”

Mr. Othman said Governing Council members planned to meet today to discuss the language of the proposed resolution, before Mr. Zebari presented their case to Washington and the United Nations.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, news of Mr. Bush’s speech and the pending U.N. resolution faded against explosions, rocket fire, gunfire, a car bombing that destroyed a hotel — standard fare in a city where residents said they have traded in security for very little political freedom.

“You promise, promise, promise and don’t do anything,” said Ali Dawood, an Iraqi security guard severely wounded in a car bombing last year, of repeated U.S. pledges to bring an end to the violence in Iraq.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, France, Russia and China said they would seek changes to the draft resolution, insisting on a timeline for the withdrawal of the U.S.-led force and a bigger Iraqi say over its operations.

c Nicholas Kralev and Bill Sammon contributed to this report from Washington, and Paul Martin contributed from London.

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