As the clock to war ticked down Wednesday, the United States was already mapping out plans for rebuilding Iraq -- and quietly asking for the U.N. Security Council's help.
The U.S. and Britain indicated that they planned to seek up to three new resolutions concerning the political and physical reconstruction of Iraq.
"We will need the Security Council in the future as we develop new resolutions that will deal with the aftermath of a conflict," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in Washington.
Although the council agreed that Iraq's dire humanitarian needs must be dealt with immediately, the overtures came a bit too soon for some members still smarting from months of wrangling over whether Iraq must be disarmed by force.
"It is inappropriate for the aggressors to now act as if they are also the saviors," said one diplomat. "We still have a bad taste in our mouths and cannot swallow this new plan from them just yet."
One diplomatic solution could be to "launder" the first U.S.-British draft resolution by sending it to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who would incorporate his own proposals and then ask the current Security Council president, Guinea, or another council member to formally introduce it. The new resolution could come as soon as today, but probably Friday, U.S. and U.N. officials said.
The first resolution would put Iraq's current reserves of $40 billion in U.N.-controlled oil money toward humanitarian relief during the war. It assumes that the current Iraqi government will dissolve and would redirect the authority to spend the oil revenues to Annan. The plan would cover only several months -- the U.S. plan originally said 90 days -- and focus only on immediate humanitarian needs.
A second resolution being discussed would cover a longer period and may seek U.N. endorsement for a transition administration until an Iraqi government is in place.
The U.N. hopes to quickly revive its humanitarian programs in Iraq, which were suspended Monday in anticipation of an attack. On Wednesday, Annan painted a grim picture of a country that has suffered for years under strict sanctions and repeated war. "The conflict that is now clearly about to start can only make things worse -- perhaps much worse," he said.
More than 60% of Iraq's 24 million people rely on U.N. food rations as their primary source of sustenance, and the elaborate distribution network will probably be disrupted during the conflict. Annan told the council that the U.N. had requested more than $123 million from donors to prepare for the effects of war but had received only $34 million so far.
The U.S. has positioned $16.5 million worth of food rations and relief supplies in the region, U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said, and has pledged $60 million to U.N. agencies and aid groups. British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said his government has earmarked $110 million for humanitarian aid and may announce more later.
The third resolution, addressing Iraq's reconstruction, would be the most comprehensive and thus the most controversial. It would ask the Security Council to consider how U.N. agencies should be involved in Iraq, what governance role the international community could have and the security role the U.S. and others might play. It also may determine who gets control of oil and other resources that the U.N. has administered in the past.
"That's way down the pike," a U.S. official said. "We're just beginning to think about it."
At the Security Council on Wednesday, many diplomats seemed stuck on last week's debate. Foreign ministers from France, Russia, Germany and Syria who attended the meeting tried to keep the focus on what Iraq still has to do to disarm.
In a presentation that had been scheduled before U.N. weapons inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq this week, chief inspector Hans Blix gave the council a list of key remaining disarmament tasks for Iraq. But he said the list now "would seem to have only limited practical relevance in the current situation."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, however, said the idea of inspections was still relevant.
"Why should we now, especially now, abandon our plan to disarm Iraq with peaceful means?" he asked. "The Security Council has not failed. We must counter that myth. The Security Council has made available the instruments to disarm Iraq peacefully. The Security Council is not responsible for what happens outside the U.N."
Part of the meeting seemed to be a therapy session for diplomats still working through the residual bitterness and blame from months of intense haggling over Iraq and larger debates about the relevance of the United Nations. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin declared in the council that the Security Council was now more relevant than ever.
"No country by itself has the means to build Iraq's future, and in particular, no state can claim the necessary legitimacy," he said. "It is from the United Nations alone that the legal and moral authority can be found for such an undertaking."
Powell and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw did not attend the meeting, but De Villepin said he told Straw by phone that he was "shocked and hurt" by vilification directed at France from London over Paris' threat to veto a U.S.-British resolution that effectively would have authorized the use of force in Iraq.
During Greenstock's address to the council Wednesday, the foreign ministers from France, Russia and Germany left the chamber.
For all their differences over the past six months, all council members agree that the U.N. must act decisively to address Iraq's humanitarian needs.
"We favor the view that a U.N. role for postwar Iraq is needed," said a French diplomat. "After a war -- that we hope will be short -- there will come a time when Arabs may view the liberation of Iraq as an occupation. The best way to avoid this feeling -- and the consequences -- is to have as much U.N. presence as possible," the diplomat said.
French President Jacques Chirac, who led opposition to military intervention, also called for a strong U.N. role. He even pledged that France would act "as a responsible country," and said that the French military could join the U.S.-led military coalition if Iraq used chemical or biological weapons.
But the Bush administration appears wary of allowing the French and others to reap too many rewards in postwar Iraq.
The first proposed resolution suspends all contracts in Iraq's "oil-for-food" program, including lucrative oil and business deals that France, Russia, other countries and even the U.S. have made with the Iraqi government.
Powell said there would be enough work to do in recreating Iraq that "anybody who wants to contribute in some way will be able to." But in an interview with international wire services Tuesday, he also predicted that Iraqis would remember who "brought about their liberation and who was for them and who was not for them."