NEW YORK -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to extend the mandate of the nearly 180,000-strong multinational force in Iraq for a year, a move the United States called a strong signal of the international commitment to Iraq's political transition.
The resolution, co-sponsored by the United States, Britain, Denmark, Japan and Romania, was adopted in response to a request from Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for the U.S.-led force to remain in the country.
The current mandate authorizing the presence of the force expires Dec. 31, about two weeks after parliamentary elections -- the end point of the political process as defined by the Security Council.
The resolution extends the mandate until Dec. 31, 2006, with a review after eight months. Under its terms, the council will "terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the government of Iraq."
The force comprises 157,000 American troops and 22,000 troops from other countries.
U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton called the unanimous vote "a significant signal that the international community's committed to making the process in Iraq -- as they attempt to create institutions of representative government -- succeed."
Asked why the resolution was adopted nearly two months early, Mr. Bolton said, "We wanted to get the mandate extended to show the solidarity of international support for the electoral process in Iraq and to avoid it becoming an issue in the upcoming election, and also to resolve it well before the December 31 expiration."
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said security is the underpinning of the political development and economic prosperity needed to establish peace in Iraq.
Adopting the resolution ahead of the Dec. 15 elections eliminates any possible uncertainty about the continuation of the force because "everybody knows the Iraqis want the multinational force to continue," he said.
Mr. al-Jaafari requested the yearlong extension in a letter to the council last month.
"The Iraqi national security forces, which are increasing in size, capability and experience day after day, need more time to complete their training, ranks and equipment in order to take over the primary responsibility of providing adequate security for Iraqis," he wrote.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an Oct. 29 letter to the council, said that since the U.S. occupation of Iraq ended on June 28, 2004, the multinational force and the Iraqi government developed a security partnership to address "Iraq's security environment, including the continuing need to prevent and deter acts of terrorism."
"This partnership plays a critical role in the daily efforts to improve security throughout Iraq," she wrote, noting that "substantial progress" has been made to build and train Iraqi security forces and allow them to take on increased responsibilities.
The Iraqi government and the multinational force are developing a plan for transferring security responsibility from the international force to Iraq, Miss Rice said.