The United States is sounding out the Security Council and top U.N. officials about a new resolution endorsing its plans for an accelerated transfer of power in Iraq -- plans that sound remarkably similar to ideas pushed by France, Germany, Russia and the U.N. secretary-general months ago.
The resolution may ask the U.N. to oversee the process, but U.N. officials could find themselves in the awkward position of being asked to do more than they'd like in the unstable country.
Members of the Iraqi Governing Council said they would send a letter to the Security Council within a few days asking for a resolution blessing their agreement with the U.S.-led occupation administration to hand over power to a provisional Iraqi government in June. They also would seek U.N. help in organizing elections and implementing the agreement.
The 24-member Governing Council, handpicked by the U.S., believes that an explicit U.N. imprimatur would give the provisional government more legitimacy, members said Wednesday.
"International cover and support will be very important to us," said council member Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish leader. "It's a deal between the Iraqis, the Governing Council and the Americans, but we need outside cover." The Security Council's pledge of support would lend a shade of independence and "give us a boost," he said.
After months of resisting demands by France, Germany, Russia and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to speed the transfer of power to Iraqis, the United States abruptly changed course last week in the face of growing anti-American sentiment and more frequent attacks on occupying forces and aid groups. Previously, the U.S. had said it was necessary to draft a constitution and hold elections before sovereignty could be transferred.
The Governing Council, in consultation with the United States, announced a new timetable Saturday for transition. It called for creating a provisional national assembly in May, an interim administration with full sovereign power in June and an elected government by the end of 2005.
Russia's U.N. ambassador Sergei V. Lavrov, who fought to leave the door open for exactly such a process, was satisfied by the change of course and called for the U.N. to "be at the forefront" of the political process, security conditions permitting.
"I think there will be a new resolution. We clearly stated when [the previous resolution] was adopted that this was not the last one on Iraq."
Although American officials have been sounding out Security Council ambassadors and top U.N. brass about a new resolution approving the timetable, they have been publicly denying that one was on the way.
But British diplomats said that the measure was definitely in the works.
"The U.K. assumption is that there will be a resolution welcoming these developments and that we will do this as soon as we are in receipt of a formal approach from the Iraqis," said Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry.
U.S. efforts to play it down may be an attempt to keep others from seeing it as an opportunity to bargain. "It would give a pat on the back for the Iraqi Governing Council, which is worth having. But not worth giving anything away for," another British diplomat said.
But the Governing Council's request for U.N. oversight of the political transition, including help in organizing local elections, puts the U.N. in an awkward position. Annan has welcomed Washington's change in approach but is hesitant to bring the organization on board for both safety and political reasons, U.N. officials say.
When the security situation continued to deteriorate after the U.N. lost 22 people in an Aug. 19 bombing of its Baghdad headquarters, Annan withdrew all international staff from the country. Although Annan said Monday that he would name a special U.N. representative to Iraq in the near future -- aides said by the end of the year -- he insisted that conditions must improve dramatically before the U.N. would send a single employee back to Iraq. The special representative may even be based outside the country.
U.N. executives also said the U.N. must have a clearly defined and independent mission before participating in the transition. "The U.N. can't simply be the subcontractor -- that's not going to work," said one of Annan's political advisors, Danilo Turk. "That will not be credible. One can't just declare the Earth is flat and say that the U.N.'s special representative will make sure that it is flat."
Times staff writer Alissa J. Rubin in Baghdad contributed to this report.