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U.S. to Grant ‘Full Sovereignty’ to Iraqis at June 30 Hand-Over

Times Staff Writer

Seeking to convince Iraqis that the U.S.-led occupation authority is truly handing over power on June 30, Washington says it will ease its grip on Iraqi military forces and police, and is declaring that it will hand over “full sovereignty” rather than a limited version U.S. officials described just weeks ago.

Iraq’s new leaders will be invited to help define the boundaries of their power and craft a new Security Council resolution mapping out the transition.

“Many Iraqis have expressed their desire to have limits on the authorities of this interim government, reflecting their view that some issues are best left to an elected Iraqi government for decision,” U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham told the Security Council this week. “We note that it is for Iraqis to decide what those limits might be.”

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U.S. officials raised hackles here and in Iraq last month when they used the phrase “limited sovereignty” to describe the authority of an interim government that would hold power until elections in January 2005. Now, they are taking pains to assure the world that the transfer of power is real and not merely cosmetic, despite the continued presence of 135,000 foreign troops and the United States’ largest embassy. The diplomats will include 620 officials of the occupation authority who will stay on, many as “liaison” personnel to Iraqi ministries.

The most contentious issue in a pending Security Council resolution is defining the limits of power of the U.S.-led multinational military force.

The resolution will provide for the force’s continued presence after the June 30 hand-over to maintain stability in Iraq. But diplomats are debating who would have ultimate authority over the international forces and the Iraqi military -- the interim Iraqi government, or the U.S. command.

The diplomatic answer is both. But to the commanders of the multinational force, U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid will have the last word. Pentagon officials cite a previous Security Council resolution and law governing Iraq’s transition.

That concept met with protest. “If you say to the Iraqis they are sovereign, but they have nothing to say about security, then they are not sovereign,” said a senior French diplomat.

But Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage offered a concession in comments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. He said Iraqi forces should have the right to “opt out” of certain military operations.

The resolution would also make clear that the Iraqi government, not the U.S.-led force, would have control of the Iraqi police and civilian prisons, U.S. officials said.

British and U.S. diplomats who are drafting the resolution said the multinational force must operate with the “consent and coordination” of the Iraqi government. Germany has proposed an Iraqi “national security council” that could consult with the U.S. Central Command on the use of force, an idea that is gaining support at the U.N.

The new resolution will also spell out the mandate of the multinational force. France and Germany want a clear timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces, but the United States and Britain are pushing for a review after a year, while granting an elected government the right to reassess the force’s presence at any time.

Discussion of a new resolution is still in the early stages, with British and American officials presenting ideas to counterparts at the United Nations and in world capitals. But they say that before circulating a complete draft, they want to hear a report by Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, on who will be in the new government, and how it may operate. The resolution is expected to endorse Brahimi’s plan.

Brahimi is expected to name a president, a prime minister, two vice presidents and 26 ministers next week. The Iraqi officials would then consult with the Security Council on the resolution, particularly on defining the limits of their authority. The boundaries would probably be established in a letter from Brahimi to the council that could be endorsed in the resolution, diplomats said.

Brahimi has said that Iraqi leaders, especially the influential cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, want to ensure that the interim government does not make long-term commitments that should be left to an elected administration.

The resolution will also make clear that control of oil income and other revenues will be in Iraqi hands.

With the U.S. and Britain showing flexibility, diplomats say, there is not likely to be a major fight over the resolution. French officials say privately that they hold the option of abstaining but are not likely to veto.

“This is not the question of last year ... of going to war,” said a French official. “This year, we all have the same objective: We want this process to succeed.”

Times staff writer Mary Curtius in Washington contributed to this report.


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