- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

BAGHDAD — Iraqi political groups won a partial victory last night when the United States introduced an amended Security Council resolution in New York that strengthens the role of an interim Iraqi administration expected to take office within weeks.

The original resolution, which would lift economic sanctions on Iraq, also contains language designed to legitimize the role of coalition forces in Iraq as they share power with an Iraqi “interim authority” that would govern for as long as two years.

But the Iraqi political groups, including the most fervent supporters of the American military invasion, had complained that the term “authority” was too weak and would limit the body’s ability to deal with international organizations such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the United Nations.

Several leaders of the seven major groups that make up the Iraqi Leadership Council said in interviews that they wanted the resolution amended to provide for an interim government with the authority to make key decisions on laws, the political process and the drafting of an Iraqi constitution.

The resolution introduced at the United Nations last night went part of the way in meeting that demand by using the phrase “interim administration,” a U.S. diplomat said. He said the change also addressed concerns raised by other Security Council members who agreed that the word “authority” was too weak.

It was not clear last night whether the change would satisfy the Iraqi political groups.

Leaders of those groups, including the passionately pro-American Iraqi National Congress and an Iranian-backed Shi’ite party, had expressed their displeasure with the original language at a dinner with the U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, on Friday evening.

Leaders of the two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, also attended the dinner, held at the former Republican Guard Palace, which houses U.S. and British advisers.

“This draft resolution has everyone opposed,” said Hoshyar Zebari, spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK), in an interview international organizations such as OPEC and the United Nations conducted before the new language was released.

“The leadership was united that this new resolution would mean an Iraqi interim authority is not a government, that the real power is the coalition,” he said.

A representative of another group that attended the Friday dinner said none of the seven groups in the Iraqi Leadership Council had been consulted about the language in the original resolution.

If the resolution had been approved as written, he said, it would be very difficult for the Iraqi administration that is to be established in the coming weeks to gain legitimacy with foreign governments, the World Bank and even, potentially, the Iraqi people.

The Iraqi Leadership Council is a broad-based umbrella group of Iraqi political groups that is expected to form the core of the interim Iraqi administration to be chosen by the end of the month.

“An interim authority is a very vague concept. I am not sure that an Iraqi representative would go to OPEC meetings under this setup,” Entifadh Qanbar, a senior official in the Iraqi National Congress, told Reuters news agency Sunday.

U.S. officials had been trying to dampen the discord, denying news reports that they have put off plans for establishing an interim administration and insisting that they have no intention of staying in Iraq any longer than necessary.

“I don’t know where these stories are coming from because we haven’t delayed anything,” Mr. Bremer told reporters during the weekend. Other Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance sources dismissed the news reports as “nonsense” and “preposterous.”

The Iraqi political leaders, whose ideologies and priorities are as diverse as the ethnic and political groupings in this country of 24 million, are working to convene a conference of several hundred academics, religious and community leaders, and technocrats to exchange views on governance.

The PDK’s Mr. Zebari said yesterday that the leadership council is committed to holding another broad-based gathering, the third, under its own auspices, instead of at the invitation of coalition commanders.

But unless the Security Council resolution is amended to give the Iraqis more power, he said, the late-May gathering “will be pointless.”

“Why should we waste our time, our energy, our efforts, on something that is predetermined?” Mr. Zebari said.

Other groups were more angry than disheartened.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq has accused Washington of breaking its promises to set up a sovereign Iraqi government and threatened civil disobedience if its concerns are not heeded.

Several thousand Shi’ite Muslims participated yesterday in the largest protest of U.S. presence in Iraq since the war’s end with a noisy but peaceful rally.

The latest U.S. draft resolution also offers some concessions to Security Council critics, including a bigger U.N. role in reconstruction, to win broad support.

Council diplomats said the draft would phase out the oil-for-food humanitarian program, relied on by two-thirds of Iraqis for their food supplies, during six months rather than the four in an earlier draft.

The new text, which U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said he wanted to bring to a vote by the end of the week, also would open the door to a return of U.N. arms inspectors, though not in the immediate future, the diplomats said.

Mr. Negroponte told reporters that in introducing its third version of the draft text, Washington is not likely to agree to any more changes.

“What we are going to propose to delegations is that they seek instructions [from their capitals] so that they will be prepared to vote from Wednesday forward,” he said.

“We never say never,” he said when asked whether the latest text is being offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. But “what we are signaling is that we have gone just about as far as we can in meeting the concerns that have been expressed by other delegations,” he said.

The draft would end nearly 13 years of U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq after its invasion of oil-rich Kuwait in 1990. It would authorize the United States and Britain, as the occupying powers in Iraq, to use oil revenue to rebuild the shattered Middle Eastern nation.

None of the major powers has threatened a veto, and the resolution is widely expected to be adopted. But U.S. officials hinted that they are eager to win France’s support in particular, worried that Paris, a permanent member, might abstain.

French President Jacques Chirac is holding out for further revisions, including a bigger U.N. role, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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