- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

The Bush administration will ask the United Nations to transform the U.S.-led force in Iraq into a multinational force and to play a leading role in forming an Iraqi government.

President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met yesterday and agreed to move forward with a new U.N. resolution, an effort to attract more foreign contributions to postwar Iraq, three senior administration officials said on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Powell and his aides will begin talking about the resolution in the coming days with Britain, a close ally, as well as France and Russia, two countries that opposed the U.S.-led war. These countries are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council whose support is critical to a resolution.

The United States hopes that expanding the U.N. role in postwar Iraq will attract badly needed troop contributions from additional countries to help stabilize Iraq and more money to help rebuild the country.

Last week, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage said Washington was considering creation of a multinational force under U.N. leadership, but with an American commander, in an attempt to persuade reluctant nations to send troops to boost security in Iraq.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has ruled out a U.N. peacekeeping force in Iraq, but he has sought to turn the military operation into a U.N.-authorized multinational force.

Five months after the United States was forced to drop a U.N. resolution seeking authority to attack Iraq, administration officials said they did not want a repeat of that brawl. They say they expect the United States to engage in quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations on the text of the resolution to ensure it would be agreeable to the veto-wielding permanent members and the rest of the Security Council, and to project a unanimous, internationally backed stand on what happens next on Iraq.

The senior official said the Bush administration plans to begin talking with other nations within days about the new Security Council resolution.

Diplomats say that placing reconstruction under U.N. auspices will make it easier to garner contributions from nations opposed to the war, notably France and Germany. Belgium, too, said last week that it might be willing to donate money if the United Nations was “playing a central role” in reconstruction.

With soaring budget deficits at home, Mr. Bush is eager to win financial contributions from other nations. The U.S. military occupation of Iraq could cost anywhere from $8 billion to $29 billion annually, depending on how many American troops are needed there, the Congressional Budget Office says.

The French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, said the international community needs to move quickly to establish an internationally recognized Iraqi government. His country, wielding a Security Council veto, led the opposition to the war against Iraq. France and Russia have called for a timetable for a constitution, elections and the restoration of Iraq’s sovereignty.

“We think now it’s a matter of urgency, and the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqis is something now which is a priority,” Mr. de La Sabliere said yesterday at U.N. headquarters in New York. “On the whole subject, we have to move fast because the situation is deteriorating.”

Mr. Bush and Mr. Powell made their decision two weeks after U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was bombed, killing top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 22 others, and injuring 164 persons. On Friday, the United Nations ordered a drastic reduction of its remaining 400 international staff to a ceiling of 50 because of continuing security concerns.

Mexico’s U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, a Security Council member, said yesterday the withdrawal has to be a temporary measure to reassess security conditions.

“The commitment of the United Nations has to be reinforced and reconceived,” he said. “The authority in Iraq should be the U.N. as opposed to the occupying powers.”

Bulgaria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Stefan Tafrov, another council member whose country already has provided troops to the U.S.-led force, said a new resolution should provide “as central as possible” a role for the United Nations.

“What is clear is that all members of the Security Council and the international community at large need a stabilized Iraq. It’s in the interest of everybody, the Iraqi people to begin with,” he said.

The administration is optimistic that it can attract troops for Iraq from at least India, Pakistan and Turkey by placing the operation under the U.N. flag.

Tentative drafts of a U.N. Security Council resolution circulated Friday among administration officials, but the State Department had yet to attract a consensus among them for expanding the U.N. role in Iraq.

In Baghdad yesterday, the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq said U.S. occupation authorities will push the new Iraqi Cabinet to assume governing duties and have set as a goal the quick training of Iraqis to take over security.

L. Paul Bremer’s comments came as members of the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council increased criticism of U.S. forces over the lack of security. One member, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, launched a blistering attack on the U.S.-led coalition yesterday as he delivered the eulogy for his brother, a top cleric killed in a car bombing Friday in Najaf.

Mr. Bremer, who cut short a vacation in the United States and returned to Iraq after the Najaf blast, praised the council’s appointing of 25 government ministers on Monday after weeks of delay.

Mr. Bremer made his remarks after Mr. al-Hakim demanded that U.S. troops leave Iraq in a eulogy before 40,000 Shi’ite mourners at the funeral of his brother, Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir al-Hakim. The council member blamed the Americans for lax security that allowed the car bombing, which killed more than 120 people.

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency reported that a U.S. soldier was killed and another injured yesterday in a helicopter accident in Iraq, the U.S. military said.

The accident occurred when the UH-60 helicopter rolled over after making what a U.S. Central Command statement described as a hard landing.

The soldier who was killed belonged to the 1st Armored Division, the statement said.

• Associated Press reporters George Gedda in Washington, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Andrew England in Baghdad contributed to this report .

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