Top U.N. officials and Security Council members welcomed delegates of the U.S.-backed interim governing council on Tuesday as a first step toward Iraqis reclaiming control of their country, and urged the U.S. to end its military occupation as soon as possible.
In the first U.N. assessment of Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion, special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello told the Security Council how the U.N. could assist the ruling administration in Iraq, which is struggling to secure order and restore public services while fending off guerrilla attacks. But he emphasized that the U.N. cannot replace the Coalition Provisional Authority or the rightful role of the Iraqis in shaping their future.
"There will need to be a clear timetable, laid out as soon as possible, for the earliest possible restoration of sovereignty," De Mello said. "Iraqis need to know that the current state of affairs will come to an end soon. They need to know that stability will return and that the occupation will end." Underpinning the session -- but hardly mentioned -- was the debate over whether the U.S. needs a new resolution to explicitly authorize other countries to contribute troops and money to Iraq's reconstruction.
After several nations have refused to help the coalition stabilize Iraq without a more specific U.N. mandate, Washington has been talking quietly with France, Russia and Germany about what it would take to secure their backing. The U.S. hoped the presence of the three members of Iraq's governing council at Tuesday's session would reassure other nations that the coalition is quickly transferring power to Iraqi hands, and that the more help the Iraqis receive, the quicker the occupying forces can leave the country.
U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte appealed again on Tuesday to Security Council members to join the coalition in "establishing the conditions for security, which will allow prosperity and democracy to flourish." Despite increasing pressure from some members of Congress to internationalize Iraq's reconstruction, even if it means returning humbly to the U.N., American diplomats insist that the existing Resolution 1483 recognizing the U.S.-led forces as an occupying power provides enough authority for other countries' assistance.
"We want to hear from other countries what more they would need to start helping the people of Iraq," said a U.S. diplomat. "If 1483 allowed the U.S. to go in and occupy Iraq, why doesn't it allow the French to go in and help?" But German and French diplomats say no money or troops will be sent until the U.S. hands over more power to the U.N. and Iraqis. German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger called again on Tuesday for a separate multilateral fund for donors who didn't want their money to be spent by the coalition.
In the crisis, others see opportunity. While the U.N. has been largely sidelined to coordinating humanitarian relief after the U.S.-led invasion, the gradual recognition by the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA, that the occupation is more costly and complicated than it expected may provide an opening for the U.N. to reassert itself, U.N. officials say.
The U.N. is already working to deliver food and medicine throughout Iraq. The next steps for the country are writing a constitution, preparing for eventual elections, setting up war crimes tribunals and training police to establish law and order -- all elements the U.N. says it can help with, De Mello told The Times.
"I think as they proceed, as they realize the magnitude of the task, they also realize that the U.N. is there in a supporting role, in a complementary role," he said. "We are not there to compete. We are there to achieve the same goals that the CPA has in mind, which is full sovereignty for the people of Iraq as soon as possible."
Until the CPA hands power over to an elected Iraqi government -- a process estimated to take one to two years -- the 25-member governing council will have a key role in the transition. The group can appoint interim diplomats and ministers, approve budgets and propose policies, but authorities can veto any of its decisions.
The three members of the U.S.-backed interim group making its diplomatic debut before the Security Council on Tuesday were: Adnan Pachachi, a widely respected former foreign minister who had been in exile for three decades; Akila Hashimi, Iraq's longtime liaison to the United Nations and one of three women on the council; and Ahmad Chalabi, the controversial head of an exile organization and the Pentagon's favored candidate to lead the country.
While Syria said that recognizing the group would only delay the creation of a legitimate Iraqi government, the rest of the 15-nation Security Council -- as well as Secretary-General Kofi Annan -- offered support for the temporary body. The leader of the trio, 80-year-old Pachachi, told the council that the Iraqi body's "primary goal is to shorten the duration of the interim administration" and to create a new constitution and elected government in Iraq.