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Running Postwar Iraq Next Battle

France and Russia say the U.S.-led war is illegitimate and vow to fight any moves, even humanitarian aid, that would justify it.

March 23, 2003|Sonni Efron and Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Despite its early military successes, the United States on Friday was winning less diplomatic backing than it had hoped for its efforts to rebuild Iraq.

The Bush administration had expected that wavering nations would rush to support the U.S.-led attack once it began, but the antiwar camp hardened its stance. France and Russia have made it clear that they consider the U.S.-led war to be illegitimate and will fight any international diplomatic moves, even involving humanitarian aid, that might appear to justify it.

French President Jacques Chirac said on Friday that only the United Nations had the power to run postwar Iraq and threatened to veto any resolution that would allow the United States and Britain to administer the country -- even though no such resolution has been formally proposed yet.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. already was contributing $105 million to the U.N. and other agencies for humanitarian relief for Iraq. He declined to say whether the U.S. would agree to give the U.N. a political mandate or limit it to only a humanitarian role.

French and Iraqi opposition at the United Nations delayed a U.S.-led effort to put U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in charge of running the program that uses Iraqi oil revenue to pay for food and medicine for Iraqis. The program, run by the Iraqi government under U.N. supervision, provided daily rations to about 60% of the more than 22 million Iraqis.

Annan suspended the program Monday and evacuated U.N. staff in anticipation of the U.S.-led attack on Iraq. At a Security Council meeting, the chief of the oil-for-food program, Benon Sevan, said that he had people waiting at the border to revive food distribution once authorities give him approval.

"The question is, which authorities?" a diplomat asked.

In private, U.S. and British diplomats fumed that the French were willing to jeopardize humanitarian aid efforts to the Iraqis in order to register their antiwar stance. A French diplomat said such criticism was "totally unfair."

Diplomats were to work on a compromise plan over the weekend and expect to resolve the matter by next week.

Chirac said France would reject any United Nations resolution that would permit the U.S. and Britain to administer Iraq. "That would justify the war after the event," Chirac told reporters in Brussels.

That France -- and to a lesser extent, Russia -- are fighting is a sign of their continuing resentment that the U.S. and Britain skirted the United Nations to wage war.

"You have some countries saying, if America wants to invade, make them pay" for Iraq's reconstruction, said Jeffrey Laurenti, executive director of the United Nations Assn. of the U.S.A., a U.N. think-tank in New York.

The U.S. and Britain are considering three resolutions to address humanitarian relief and postwar rebuilding for Iraq.

The first, being prepared in the council for a vote next week, would transfer the authority for the oil-for-food program from the Iraqi government to the U.N. secretary-general.

Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri read a statement from the Iraqi government slamming Annan, accusing him of doing the bidding of the United States and Britain and violating the U.N. charter.

A second resolution, which hasn't been proposed yet, would address longer-term humanitarian issues.

The third is the one that worries Chirac. It would address who should govern Iraq and oversee reconstruction, including politically sensitive -- and potentially lucrative -- oil and construction contracts.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John D. Negroponte, dismissed claims that the U.S. and Britain wanted to control Iraq's oil. "We will ensure that Iraq's natural resources, including its oil, are used entirely for the benefit of the people of Iraq," he said Friday.

In Moscow, Russia's foreign minister told parliament that an American occupation of Iraq would be illegal. President Vladimir V. Putin said the war could destabilize Russia and the former Soviet republics.

"The crisis has spilled beyond a local conflict and is now a potential source of instability in other regions," Putin said. "The war against Iraq is fraught with unpredictable consequences, including increased extremism."

In another setback, the U.S. request to nations to expel Iraqi diplomats triggered an angry backlash from two Muslim countries and polite rejection even from an American ally, the Netherlands.

Washington earlier had asked nations to expel Iraqi diplomats deemed spies or security threats, and many complied. But the U.S. request went further, asking countries to suspend relations with the Hussein regime, kick out Iraqi diplomats, close embassies and freeze their assets and documents "so the people who are there now can't steal them," Boucher said.

By Friday, at least seven nations had rejected the request: Indonesia, Malaysia, Algeria, Finland, the Netherlands, France and Russia.

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