Wednesday, June 9, 2004

A unanimous U.N. Security Council yesterday agreed to a U.S.-British resolution outlining the political future of Iraq and giving a clear international mandate to the U.S.-led security mission in the country.

The 15-0 vote represented a major diplomatic victory for the Bush administration in the world body. Many of the countries most strongly opposed to the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein, including France, Germany and Russia, voted for the new resolution.

President Bush, in Sea Island, Ga., to host the Group of Eight summit, called the vote “a great victory for the Iraqi people.”

A free and democratic Iraq will be a “catalyst for change” across the Middle East, Mr. Bush added.

The seven-page resolution formally declares an end to the occupation of Iraq by June 30 and sets in motion a process to create an internationally recognized interim government, a new constitution and a permanent government by the end of next year.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, arriving in Sea Island yesterday, said the world’s leading powers had come together after the bitter debates of the past two years.

“We all now want to put the divisions of the past behind us and unite behind the vision of a modern, democratic and stable Iraq that can be a force for good, not just for Iraqis but for the whole region and thus the whole world,” Mr. Blair said.

Although the resolution needed four drafts and weeks of negotiations to satisfy skeptics on the Security Council, U.S. officials said yesterday the final text contains virtually all the goals set out by Mr. Bush for Iraq’s future.

The hardest bargaining came over the relations between the new interim government and the 160,000-strong U.S.-dominated security force in Iraq.

The resolution gives the interim government the right to order U.S. forces to leave Iraq and sets a January 2006 expiration date for the mandate of the multinational force.

But American troops will remain under direct U.S. command, despite efforts by France and Germany to give the new Iraqi authority the right to veto politically sensitive U.S. military operations such as the recent siege of Fallujah.

An exchange of side letters between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi lays out plans to consult on “sensitive offensive operations” against insurgents. The language proved enough to win over doubters, making yesterday’s unanimous vote a foregone conclusion.

The vote also gives the Iraqi government a strong measure of international legitimacy, something the outgoing Iraqi Governing Council, handpicked by U.S. authorities, never enjoyed.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview with CNN that the resolution “takes away the concept of occupation, which I would say was the main reason for many of the difficulties we have been going through since liberation.”

But it is uncertain how the resolution will contribute to another prime U.S. goal — getting more countries to contribute troops to the troubled Iraqi security mission.

“I expect nations to contribute as they see fit,” Mr. Bush told reporters in Georgia.

But Spain already has withdrawn its troops, and many other leading European and Middle Eastern powers have ruled out contributing to the military mission, even with the U.N. blessing.

Critics of earlier drafts at the United Nations said it was vital to spell out the powers of the new Iraqi government, to boost its credibility as it works toward a permanent government by the end of 2005.

“The effort we have to make now is for the people on the street so that everyone understands that this is a major departure from what occurred before and a fresh start,” Chilean U.N. Ambassador Heraldo Munoz said after closed-door debates on Monday.

Officials from many of the countries leading the opposition to the Iraq war, including France, Germany, Spain and Russia, praised the final text yesterday.

Algerian U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali, representing the only Arab country on the 15-nation Security Council, said the United States and Britain “have been very receptive and most of our concerns have been taken into account.”

The resolution had sparked factional feuding in Iraq, where different groups have been jockeying for power in the face of continued instability and violence.

Influential Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani insisted that the resolution omit any reference to the interim constitution drafted under the U.S.-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority, which will be dissolved June 30.

That, in turn infuriated Iraq’s Kurds, a strongly pro-U.S. ethnic minority that won significant political protections under the interim constitution.

In a June 1 letter to Mr. Bush, Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani threatened to boycott national elections and bar central government officials from Kurdish-controlled lands in northern Iraq if the protections were dropped.

U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, charged with overseeing many of the coming political negotiations leading to a permanent government next year, warned the Security Council on Monday that the new Iraqi authority faces major challenges.

“The days and weeks ahead will severely test this new government and the solutions to Iraq’s current challenges will take years, not months to overcome,” he said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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