UNITED NATIONS – The Security Council approved a resolution Thursday welcoming the Iraqi Governing Council (search) and created a mission to oversee U.N. efforts to help rebuild the country and establish a democratic government.
The vote was 14-0 with Syria abstaining because of its opposition to any endorsement of the 25-member Iraqi council, which was appointed by the United States.
Nearly five months after the deeply divided Security Council (search) refused to authorize the U.S.-led war on Iraq, the occupation of the country by the United States and Britain remains a sensitive issue, especially for Arab nations.
The Arab League (search) declared on Aug. 4 that its members — which include Syria — would not recognize the Governing Council and would wait instead until Iraq is led by an elected government.
But approval of the U.S.-drafted resolution showed a broad acceptance of the Governing Council as a transitional body.
"This resolution helps pave the way towards the peace, stability and democracy that the long afflicted Iraqi people so richly deserve," U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte (search) said after the vote. "It also sends a clear signal to those who oppose the political transformation under way in Iraq that they are out of step with world opinion."
The resolution welcomes the Iraqi council "as an important step towards the formation by the people of Iraq of an internationally recognized, representative government" with sovereignty in Iraq.
Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan chided the Security Council for failing to say anything about the Iraqi council — even after three of members addressed the U.N. body last month. "It doesn't send a very good message," Annan said.
The resolution also establishes the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq to provide structure for the U.N.'s operations in the country.
Currently, U.N. efforts in Iraq are run by Annan's special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Annan has proposed the mission include more than 300 civilian staff dealing with humanitarian, political, reconstruction and other issues.
Many Security Council members have pushed for a broader role for the United Nations in Iraq as it draws up a constitution and works toward elections for a new government.
"We are supporting the United Nations' vital role to be more vital," Syria's U.N. Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe said.
China's new U.N. ambassador, Guangya Wang, called Thursday's resolution the first step toward a central U.N. role in Iraq. "But, of course, we feel that more steps are needed in this direction."
The resolution approved Thursday makes no mention of a greater U.N. mandate in Iraq, and Negroponte cautioned Wednesday that it "doesn't have any kind of broader implications."
Annan reiterated last week that many nations want a broader U.N. mandate before they commit troops to help in keeping order in Iraq. France, Germany and India refused a U.S. request to provide troops last month unless there was such a mandate
Annan said he would support a new U.N. resolution to get the world to pull together and help stabilize the country, but added, U.N. members "are not ready to move on it yet."
Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said after a meeting in Washington on July 16 that the possibility of a new U.N. resolution was under discussion. Annan said the aim would be to broaden the U.N. mandate in Iraq and broaden the countries participating in the U.S. and British operation.
The fact that U.S. officials were even thinking about giving the United Nations a military role in Iraq represents a major turnaround in American attitudes toward the world body. After the clash with the Security Council over the war, some U.S. officials warned that the United Nations was destined for the dustbin of history and it would follow the impotent League of Nations into oblivion.