U.S. to Ask for Wider U.N. Role in Iraq

The Bush administration is preparing to ask the United Nations to play a wider role in forming the new government in Iraq.

President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed Tuesday to move forward with a new U.N. resolution to attract more foreign contributions to Iraq, three senior administration officials said.

The United States hopes that expanding the U.N. role will attract badly needed troop contributions to help stabilize the region, and garner more money to help rebuild the country.

Powell and his aides will soon begin talking to close ally Britain, as well as France and Russia -- two countries that opposed the U.S.-led war -- about the resolution. The support of these key members of the Security Council (search) is critical.

Tentative drafts of a resolution circulated Friday among administration officials. The State Department has yet to gain a consensus for expanding the U.N. role in Iraq.

Last week, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage (search) said Washington was considering the creation of a multinational force under U.N. leadership -- but with an American commander -- in an attempt to persuade reluctant nations to send troops to Iraq.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has ruled out a U.N. peacekeeping force in the country, but he has sought to turn the military operation into a U.N.-authorized multinational force.

Five months after the United States was forced to drop a U.N. resolution seeking authority to attack Iraq, administration officials say they do not want a repeat of that brawl.

They say they expect the United States to engage in quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations on the resolution's language, to ensure it would be agreeable to the veto-wielding permanent members and the rest of the Security Council and to project a unanimous, internationally backed stand on Iraq.

Diplomats say putting the U.N. in charge of reconstruction will make it easier to garner contributions from nations that opposed the war, notably France and Germany. Belgium said last week that it may be willing to donate money if the United Nations was "playing a central role" in reconstruction.

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, whose country wields a Security Council veto, said the international community needs to move quickly to establish an internationally recognized Iraqi government. France and Russia have called for a timetable for a constitution, elections and the restoration of Iraq's sovereignty.

"We think now it's a matter of urgency, and the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqis is something now which is a priority," de La Sabliere said Tuesday at U.N. headquarters in New York. "On the whole subject, we have to move fast because the situation is deteriorating."

Two weeks ago, the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was bombed, killing top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others and injuring 164 people. The United Nations has since ordered a reduction of its remaining 400 international staff to 50 because of continuing security concerns.

But Mexico's U.N. Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, a Security Council member, said Tuesday the withdrawal has to be a temporary measure.

"The commitment of the United Nations has to be reinforced and reconceived," he said. "The authority in Iraq should be the U.N., as opposed to the occupying powers."

The administration is optimistic it can attract peacekeeping troops for Iraq from at least India, Pakistan and Turkey by placing the operation under the U.N. flag.

Bulgaria's U.N. Ambassador Stefan Tafrov, another council member whose country has already provided troops to the U.S.-led force, said a new resolution should provide "as central as possible" a role for the United Nations.

"What is clear is that all members of the Security Council and the international community at large need a stabilized Iraq. It's in the interest of everybody, the Iraqi people to begin with," he said.

With soaring budget deficits at home, Bush is eager to win financial contributions from other nations.

The Congressional Budget Office (search) has released an analysis stating that the occupation, which relies on the creation of two new Army divisions, could cost up to an estimated $29 billion annually.

Relying on existing soldiers serving one-year tours would cost as little as $8 billion a year, but would mean the force would steadily shrink as troops were rotated out of Iraq, the study says.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.