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Iraqis’ security role at crux of U.N. debate

Edith M. Lederer Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS – The United States unveiled on Monday its long-awaited post-occupation plans for a sovereign interim government in Iraq and got a generally positive response. But it faced questions about how much say Iraqis will have over U.S.-led forces that will keep the peace.

The U.S. presentation of a draft resolution on Iraq set the stage for intense negotiations with longtime critics of the Iraq war, such as France and Germany, who are demanding a greater role for Iraq’s interim government in security issues.

France said Monday it wants a timetable for the Iraqi government to take control over Iraqi police and security forces, which, under the draft, would remain under American control.

Under the resolution, the mandate for U.S.-led forces in Iraq would be reviewed after a year – or earlier if a transitional government due to take power after January elections requests it.

U.S. and British officials said details of the relationship between the interim government due to take power June 30 and the multinational force will be spelled out in an exchange of letters with the new government once it is formed.

A British official said London hopes the letters will create a National Security Committee on which Iraqis would sit, giving them veto power over major military operations – like April’s offensive in Fallujah that outraged many Iraqis. Germany has called for such a council as a vehicle for sharing power.

While the draft raises many security issues, the new government would take control of the country’s oil and gas riches and the $10.2 billion Development Fund for Iraq where oil and gas revenues and frozen assets have been deposited. It is now run by the occupying powers.

The draft resolution, presented by the United States and Britain at a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday, would endorse the interim government, due to take power on June 30.

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is expected to announce the government’s makeup by the end of this month, trying to strike a balance between Iraq’s competing Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Brahimi was still working on names, but it was certain that the prime minister’s job would go to a Shiite. The official said he expected Brahimi to come forward with names in a week.

Brahimi said in an interview aired Monday on Arab television that a “wide diversity . . . must be reflected in the institutions of the future government.”

The draft also authorizes the more than 150,000-strong U.S.-led multinational force to stay in Iraq.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Secretary of State Colin Powell will keep his pledge to pull out U.S. troops if the interim government asks – but this won’t be incorporated in the resolution. Powell and other U.S. officials have said they don’t think Iraqi leaders would make any such request.

But the draft doesn’t answer the key question of how much of a voice Iraq’s new government – which in theory will hold full sovereignty – will have over the operation of the international or even Iraqi armed forces.

Many in Iraq and in Europe fear that the interim government due to take power in Iraq on June 30 will not be seen as legitimate if it doesn’t have a credible voice in the operations of armed forces on its own soil.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry stressed that the multinational force “will operate with the consent, in consultation, and in partnership with the Iraqi government.”

Doubts over the government’s legitimacy would undermine Washington’s claims that the June 30 handover of power represents a major change in Iraq, with the official end of the U.S.-led occupation that many Iraqis resent.

In contrast to the acrimonious debate in late 2002 when France and Germany blocked U.S. efforts to win a U.N. mandate to invade Iraq, there were positive reactions and pledges to try to get unanimous approval for a resolution.

“I think we will have consensus – but we’re going to have to work hard,” Chile’s U.N. Ambassador Heraldo Munoz said after Monday’s meeting. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said the U.S.-British draft was “a good basis for discussion.”

But Germany Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the new Iraqi government “must be able to make decisions over security issues or else it won’t be truly sovereign.”

A French diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, called the mood “constructive,” but said the Americans would not be given “a blank check” in Iraq.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters that Paris seeks a timeline for handing over control of Iraqi armed forces. The Iraqi government should “in time” have “authority over police forces and the Iraqi army,” he said.

Washington will not seek a vote on the resolution for a week or two, until Brahimi finishes his work on drawing up the interim government, a senior U.S. official said.

Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi said Brahimi could announce the new government as early as the end of this week.

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