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The World | THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

At U.N., Iraqi Says U.S.-Led Forces Must Stay

Foreign minister tells the Security Council his nation's sovereignty needs to be genuine. The message appears to have helped heal divisions.

June 04, 2004|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Iraq's new foreign minister told the Security Council on Thursday that U.S.-led multinational forces should remain in his nation as long as necessary to prevent civil war but must operate in a way that does not compromise its sovereignty.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, urging the Security Council to quickly pass a U.S.-drafted resolution on Iraq, said Iraqis wanted to be sure that the hand-over of power on June 30 would be genuine rather than cosmetic.

"We seek a new and unambiguous resolution that will ensure the transfer of full power and sovereignty and put an end to the occupation," he said.

But Zebari, sent to New York by Iraq's interim government to help shape the resolution, said Iraq would work with the U.S. military command to find a way for it to respect the nation's self-rule while still being able to defend the country and itself.

Diplomats said Zebari's appearance did much to resolve Security Council divisions over the extent of the interim government's control over the multinational force.

Dismissing demands by France, Germany, China and Russia that the force's mandate expire by a specific deadline, Zebari said a fixed timetable would be "unhelpful."

"They can't stay indefinitely," he told reporters. But a premature withdrawal could lead to civil war, he said, and even provide a foothold for terrorists within the country at a crucial time in its reconstruction. "Right now, we need them," Zebari said.

His statements also reassured the United States and Britain that, despite early mixed signals, the interim leaders of Iraq would not demand control over the U.S.-led forces.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told a French television station Thursday that the relationship between the Iraqi government and the multinational forces should be worked out between the two bodies, and not in a Security Council resolution.

"It is not all that mysterious a thing to work out," he said. "We have had arrangements of this type for years and years. We've had them in Germany. We've had them in France. We've had them in Korea and many other places."

Zebari said his main demands for the resolution were mostly matters of clarification: to make clear that Iraq would gain "full sovereignty," to strengthen the definition of Iraq's control over its own armed forces and to spell out the way the interim government would coordinate with the U.S. command.

Despite his differences with some Security Council members who pushed for even greater controls than the Iraqi government was demanding for itself, Zebari's appearance seemed to deflate much of the debate over the resolution.

"What Zebari said pleased us very much, because it's what we have said," German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said. "As far as substance is concerned, there is not so much difference. The question is how much of it will we put in the resolution?"

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry called Zebari's remarks "a ringing endorsement" of the resolution. He echoed Powell's remarks that the Iraqi government would make its own arrangements over how the multinational force should operate, to be detailed in a separate letter.

"The Iraqi government would not have control of the multinational force," he said.

The one potential problem, Jones Parry said, was Zebari's demand that the resolution endorse the Transitional Administrative Law. The law is the legal framework until an elected government passes a constitution.

Iraq's most influential Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has been critical of the law, saying it gives too much power to the Kurdish minority. Jones Parry said that because the resolution was built on the foundation of the transitional law, it did not need to incorporate the law in the text.

The issue underscored the quiet role that Sistani has played throughout the negotiations of the transfer of power. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi made sure that he received the cleric's tacit approval of Iraq's interim leaders before announcing them this week. On Thursday, Sistani called on the caretaker government to lobby the Security Council for full sovereignty for Iraq -- a statement taken as a cautious endorsement of the new government despite his contention that it "lacks the legitimacy" of elected leadership.

In a letter distributed two days after the appointment of the interim government was announced by Brahimi, Sistani said a principal goal should be "removing all aspects" of the American occupation.

Although Sistani's approval of the government was lukewarm, it was a relief to backers of the interim leadership. Because of Sistani's great influence among Shiites, outright opposition from the cleric would have made it difficult for the government to win acceptance.

With security concerns dominating political discourse, the interim government's national security committee held its first meeting Thursday, with Prime Minister Iyad Allawi presiding. He told reporters afterward that the government would enjoy "complete, full sovereignty."

Asked about the future of foreign troops in Iraq, Allawi said that "of course" multinational forces would remain in Iraq.

"No doubt the U.N. will have an important role in the coming political process, and the new resolution will specify the main features of this sovereignty," he said.

Although British and U.S. diplomats have been pushing for adoption of a Security Council resolution by the end of this week, the council will depart on a weekend retreat today to discuss Iraq's future with Brahimi and Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

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Times staff writer Laura King in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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