UNITED NATIONS – The United States and Britain presented a new U.N. resolution Monday endorsing the June 30 handover of power in Iraq and authorizing a U.S.-led multinational force to keep the peace.
But the draft didn't answer the key question of how much say Iraq's new government will have over the operation of international or even Iraqi armed forces. American officials have said the more than 135,000 U.S. forces in Iraq (search) will remain under U.S. command.
The draft also urges nations to send troops for an international force in Iraq — but there were major questions whether other countries would respond with significant numbers.
The relationship between the multinational force and the new Iraqi government will be spelled out in an exchange of letters with the interim government, once it is created, senior British officials said.
Britain hopes the letters would detail the creation of a National Security Committee (search) — made up of the Iraqi defense and interior ministers and the commander and deputy commander of the multinational force, and chaired by the Iraqi prime minister, an official in London said.
Significant military operations, such as April's offensive in the city of Fallujah, could not be taken without the committee's approval — thus giving Iraqis a veto, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The resolution does not say whether the Iraqis would be able to ask U.S. and other international troops to leave the country. It states "the importance of the consent of the sovereign government of Iraq for the presence of the multinational force."
But it only authorizes the "Transitional Government of Iraq" to review the mandate of the multinational force. That government won't be chosen until after elections planned to take place by Jan. 31.
The draft resolution was an attempt by the Bush administration to win international backing for its post-occupation plans in Iraq, which have been severely shaken by violence in the country.
With his approval ratings sinking after repeated setbacks in Iraq, President Bush (search) is also seeking to rebuild support at home. He is to deliver a nationally televised speech Monday night aimed at convincing U.S. voters he has a political and security blueprint that can stabilize Iraq.
The question of how much power Iraqis will have in the post-occupation regime has been at the center of debate in past weeks at the United Nations, even as U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi tries to help decide the make up of a caretaker government due to take power June 30.
The resolution would also:
— endorse the formation of a sovereign Interim Government, to take office by June 30 and timetable to hold elections for a transitional national assembly by Jan. 31;
— give the interim government control of a fund into which oil revenues are deposited, currently controlled by the U.S.-led coalition. An international body will continue monitoring use of the fund.
— reaffirm the authority of the U.S.-led multinational force "to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq including by preventing and deterring terrorism."
The resolution was introduced Monday at a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Council ambassadors heading into the meeting, who had received advanced copies of the draft, reacted positively.
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said the U.S.-British draft was "a good basis for discussion."
"I think it is important that the resolution will make clear that we have a new start in Iraq — the political process, the restoration of sovereignty to Iraq. And we will have to make sure that this process provides Iraqi ownership for the political process as well as for the process of economic reconstruction," he said.
Chile's U.N. Ambassador Heraldo Munoz said he was "relatively optimistic" that differences could be overcome. "I don't see major disagreements ... although there are points to be refined," he said.
But France said it seeks a clear timeline in the resolution for handing the Iraqi government power over Iraqi armed forces.
"The transfer of power to the new (Iraqi) government must be a complete, sincere and clear one," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters. The Iraqi government should "in time" have "authority over police forces and the Iraqi army."
Washington will not seek a vote on the resolution for a week or two, until Brahimi finishes his work on drawing up the interim Iraqi government due to take power on June 30, a senior U.S. official said.
Several ambassadors said they want to wait to hear from Brahimi.
Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi said Monday that Brahimi could announce the new government as early as the end of this week.
Brahimi would announce the names of a president and prime minister, as well as two vice presidents and Cabinet ministers, Pachachi told the Kuwait News Agency.
Filling the top two posts will be Brahimi's most challenging task, since Iraq's three main groups — the Shiite majority and the large Sunni Arab and Kurdish communities — all want a representative either as president or prime minister.
Brahimi said the new government will reflect Iraq's "wide diversity," but he did not say when the posts would be announced.
The issue of how much influence the caretaker government will have over the multinational forces — and even Iraqi armed forces — has been a focus of debate in recent days.
The United States is retaining control over Iraq's police, security forces and military. But U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that Iraqi troops will have the right to "opt out" of any military operation.
Iraqi forces will work for an Iraqi general "in partnership" with coalition forces, under a unified command structure led by an American general, Armitage said.
Bush administration officials have made clear that U.S. troops — who make up the vast majority of the forces in Iraq — would remain strictly under U.S. command only and not be commanded by either the U.N. or by commanders from other nations.