- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

NEW YORK — Iraq’s foreign minister warned the U.N. Security Council yesterday against the “premature departure” of U.S. troops, even as he maintained that Iraqi soldiers must be under Iraqi command as a visible display of the nation’s sovereignty.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari praised the newly named government, which is to be formally installed on June 30, as the most representative in Iraq’s history.

In remarks to the Security Council, he called on foreign nations to help create a secure enough environment to hold popular elections.

“We have yet to reach the stage of being able to maintain our own security, and therefore, the people of Iraq need and request the assistance of multinational forces to work closely with the Iraqi forces to stabilize the situation,” Mr. Zebari said.

“I stress that any premature departure of international troops would lead to chaos and the real possibility of a civil war in Iraq.”

Mr. Zebari served as foreign minister in the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, which dissolved itself on Tuesday, and was named to the same post in the interim government, which declared itself in charge of the country on Wednesday.

A formal ceremony handing over power from U.S.-led occupation authorities is to take place at the end of the month.

Mr. Zebari’s remarks came as diplomats continued to hammer out a final Security Council resolution that will recognize the new government and attempt to detail the scope of its authority in relation to U.S.-led forces.

The new government also won backing from the Iraq’s highest ranking Shi’ite leader yesterday.

In a religious edict, or fatwa, issued from the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said: “It is hoped that this government will prove its efficiency and integrity and show resolve to carry out the enormous tasks that rest on its shoulders.”

But Ayatollah al-Sistani also warned the leadership to secure full sovereignty for Iraq, restore security, prepare for elections by Jan. 31 and ease the hardships facing Iraqis.

“It cannot win popular support unless it proves that it is sincerely trying to achieve those goals,” he said.

Although the ayatollah also criticized the government for excluding large segments of society, his backing was considered crucial because Shi’ites make up about 60 percent of Iraq’s 25 million population.

The U.N. resolution being debated in New York seeks to define the relationship between Baghdad and more than 140,000 foreign soldiers and civilian contractors.

The United States and Britain have made it clear that they don’t feel Iraq is stable enough to withstand the removal of foreign troops, an event that no council member called for yesterday.

France, Germany and China yesterday were among those nations advocating that the resolution set a date to terminate the U.S.-led force, albeit with options to extend the mandate.

Mr. Zebari dismissed this suggestion as “very, very unhelpful,” saying that it could be misunderstood and manipulated.

He also called for a total and unambiguous authority and sovereignty over Iraq’s national resources, finances, judiciary and military forces.

The foreign minister, a Kurd, said repeatedly that if the Iraqi people felt the transitional government was independent, it might help overcome the current insecurity.

“The multinational forces are not there as an occupation against the wish of the Iraqi people,” Mr. Zebari said. “This time, it is by and through an agreement with the representatives of the Iraqi people.”

John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who will soon become the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, pledged that Washington will continue to work with Baghdad after the passage of the resolution.

“We must confront, with resolve and determination, those who seek to deny the Iraqi people the opportunity for democratic self-government and those who seek to sow instability, fear and terror in Iraq,” Mr. Negroponte said.

The 32-member government is led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Shi’ite.

He will share power with a president, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, a Sunni Muslim tribal leader.

The U.S.-backed Adnan Pachachi, who was passed over for the post of president, said yesterday he might run for the office when elections are held.

Mr. Pachachi told the Associated Press that his candidacy was defeated by some members of the Governing Council “who did not like my ideas … about democracy and secularism.”

The new government was selected by the U.S.-led coalition, the Governing Council and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

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