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A Lift for the U.S. and Iraq

May 23, 2003

The United Nations Security Council merely acknowledged reality Thursday in voting to lift more than a decade of sanctions on Iraq, thus accepting the role of the United States and Britain as occupying powers.

The United States did, however, listen to council members -- even France -- and modify its original proposal so the U.N. could be more involved in monitoring the reconstruction of Iraq. That concession should help win outside money and labor to aid in the rebuilding, which will reduce the burden on U.S. taxpayers.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who was demonized in Washington for blocking U.N. support for the invasion, said he was not completely satisfied with the resolution but supported it in the interests of "unity of the international community." Translation: We give up, you're bigger than we are.

Washington has an opportunity now, with the United Nations coming on board, to get North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops into Iraq as a peacekeeping force. It should not waste a minute. Iraq is still largely in chaos more than a month after the war's end, with looters and robbers continuing to terrorize their fellow countrymen.

The U.S. should still bolster its troop presence, but the sooner some could be replaced with NATO forces the better, for purposes of reducing the U.S. burden and gaining legitimacy for the occupation.

This week, the Bush administration agreed to let International Atomic Energy Agency sleuths inspect a Baghdad-area facility, at Tuwaitha, where the agency fears nuclear material is missing and where some residents may be suffering radiation poisoning from looted materials. The United States should keep going and also invite back U.N. weapons inspectors to search for chemical and biological weapons. The presence of such weapons was a chief rationale for the U.S. war against Iraq, and U.S. troops have had no luck in hunting for them.

In Thursday's action, France, Germany and Russia dropped their insistence that Iraq be certified free of weapons of mass destruction before sanctions were lifted.

The council also agreed to wind down its so-called oil-for-food program in Iraq within six months, half the time it originally wanted. The program, designed to keep oil money out of Saddam Hussein's hands, was a failure at that and, by many accounts, was afflicted with corruption.

The United States and Britain will retain broad control over the oil. An advisory board of the United Nations and international agencies including the World Bank will, however, monitor oil sales proceeds, which are to be spent rebuilding the country, paying its workers and buying needed goods.

Sanctions, though sometimes necessary, are blunt weapons that too often allow dictators to enrich themselves while their people starve. Removing the U.N. limits is a major step in Iraq's recovery, but as persistent lawlessness and confusion show, it will be a long time before Baghdad becomes the capital of a stable, peaceful land.

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