Bush pitches handover plan to UN

Resolution presented to the Security Council would pave the way Iraqi rule.

The United States and Britain face little mystery over the prospects of the Iraq resolution they began circulating in the United Nations Security Council Monday.

The resolution, ending the coalition occupation by specifying what US officials say will be "full sovereignty" for Iraq, is expected to win broad support even among countries that opposed the war.

The resolution calls for "governing authority" to be placed in the hands of a yet-to-be-named interim government. It also calls for a multinational force, in the country with Iraqi consent, to maintain security. The mandate of the multinational force would be for an initial 12 months, unless Iraq's transitional government sought an earlier review.

Council members gave the text good marks, with some saying it opens the ensuing discussion on a positive note.

What remains in question is whether the resolution can achieve the two goals set out by its sponsors: a return by the UN to a much deeper role in Iraq, and a commitment from more countries to take part in the country's postoccupation path, especially by sending in security forces.

The resolution debate takes place against a backdrop of high-anxiety negotiations in Iraq to name an interim government by the end of May. UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is working with White House envoy Robert Blackwill in Baghdad to name the top members of the new government - a prime minister, a mostly ceremonial president and two vice-presidents, and the heads of four key ministries including defense and foreign affairs - within the next few days.

Balancing powerful ethnic groups

The process is coming down to a delicate balancing act among Iraq's key religious and ethnic groups: the majority Shiites, the long-ruling but minority Sunnis, and the Kurds, who have enjoyed autonomy for more than a decade.

A successful resolution bestowing international recognition on an Iraq with sovereignty restored is one condition set by potential contributors to a multinational security force, but it is not the only one.

Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, says a resolution cementing the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people is only the first step. Beyond that, he says, the UN must be the "umbrella" under which the international community's role would be organized; and the new interim government would have to issue an "invitation" to countries to participate in providing Iraq's security.

Short of that, "There is no chance for the time being of any Muslim country contributing any forces to a stability force in Iraq," he says. The US has been particularly keen to see Pakistan provide forces for Iraq because it is a Muslim country and because it traditionally has provided significant forces to international peacekeeping bodies.

The question of oil

Debate over the resolution is also expected to address the issue of Iraq's oil revenue, with Iraqi control seen by many Security Council members as an indicator of how much independence from the erstwhile occupying countries the interim government will actually have.

US officials are insisting that even Iraq's most sensitive policy areas - including defense, diplomacy, interior, and the oil sector - will be run by Iraqis with authority in the period before planned elections in January 2005.

The draft resolution specifically bestows control of Iraq's oil resources on Iraq's government.

Noting that the US has hundreds of senior advisers in 27 Iraqi ministries helping prepare for a full assumption of authority, Frank Ricciardone, the State Department's coordinator for the Iraq transition, emphasizes the advisory nature of the role.

"In the oil sector," he cites as an example, "if they say they don't need support, we're going to say OK. We're not going to force ourselves down their throats."

Introduction of the Iraq resolution is part of what is expected to be a heavy diplomatic schedule before the transfer of authority to an interim Iraqi government on June 30. Besides the UN debate and vote on the resolution, Iraq is expected to figure prominently in a series of high profile summits - including of NATO and the G-8 group of wealthy countries - taking place in the US and Europe over coming weeks.

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