What UN resolution on Iraq will accomplish

Passage will bring legitimacy to new Iraqi government, but measure is ambiguous enough that all sides can claim victory.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The anticipated unanimous approval of a new United Nations resolution on Iraq will be touted by President Bush as a strong sign of global unity as he meets with world leaders at the G-8 summit in Georgia this week.

That will be good for the US, as it tries to broaden the international commitment to Iraq, and for Mr. Bush domestically, as he seeks to convince an anxious public that the prospect for burden sharing in Iraq is brightening. For Iraq, the resolution wraps a cloak of international legitimacy around the government that will take the reins of authority from the 14-month American occupation on June 30.

Yet even after several key revisions, the resolution remains ambiguous enough to allow both the United States and the so-called anti-war countries that remain wary of US intentions in Iraq to declare victory, experts say. At the same time, the lack of any real definition of a UN role in Iraq, along with continuing limits on the abilities of a new Iraqi government, mean the US will remain largely in charge.

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"Opponents of the war aren't really pushing too hard [on this resolution] because they don't want to bear responsibility for what happens in Iraq," says Lee Feinstein, a security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "At the same time, the ambiguities over authority and realistic limits on the Iraqis will force the US to play the lead role. It will be a kind of sovereignty by remote control."

After a number of last-minute revisions to an Anglo-American resolution designed to confirm Iraq's transition from an occupied country to a sovereign state, the 15-member Security Council was expected to give the resolution its blessing Tuesday afternoon, probably unanimously.

The UN text bestows international legitimacy on the presence of foreign forces in Iraq even after the new government assumes sovereignty on June 30. But it leaves the US in command of the 158,000 foreign troops - 138,000 of which are American - while setting an expiration date of January 2006 for the mandate of the multinational force.

After a key revision Monday, it allows Iraqi forces to opt out of "sensitive offensive operations" undertaken by the multinational force. Other tweaks were made to strengthen references to the new Iraqi government's sovereignty.

The timing of the UN debate - encompassing the days leading up to the US-hosted summit in Sea Island, Ga., this week of eight of the world's largest economic and diplomatic powers - served as a catalyst for reaching international agreement on the resolution. The Bush administration's desire to avoid a divisive summit and demonstrate international unity gave France and other revision-seekers more leverage, while giving the US a strong incentive to be accommodating.

"No one wants to be the skunk at their own garden party," says William Antholis, a former director of G-8 affairs in the Clinton National Security Council.

That's good for immediate international consensus. But the substantive differences that remain mean the issue will probably be back in the UN before too long. "I'm almost certain there will be another UN resolution in the next six months," says Mr. Antholis, now director of studies at the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

Perhaps the biggest issue likely to resurface is eventual transference of the multinational force in Iraq from US command. The US has hinted it would eventually like NATO to play a role in Iraq, as it has in Afghanistan. But Germany has expressed opposition to that idea.

In the meantime, American and Iraqi letters annexed to the resolution define to some extent the partnership that both sides will adhere to on security. Even with that, however, tensions between US-led forces and Iraqi security forces will play out on the ground over time, experts say.

Already Bush administration officials are cautious about what international commitments to expect in Iraq. No one envisions major Western countries like France or Germany contributing troops. National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice even warns that some countries already in Iraq could decide to pull out.

On the other hand, officials are hinting that some Muslim countries are ready to contribute to specific security operations. Bangladesh and Pakistan are cited as possible participants in a "brigade" that would provide security for international operations such as the UN agencies helping Iraq prepare for elections by January 2005.

The UN resolution also reflects the concerns of several countries in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Chile, Brazil, and Spain pressed for language calling on forces to respect international laws concerning warfare and human rights. Such revisions did not cause the US to balk. The resolution may not encourage a flood of international involvement in Iraq, experts say, but that may be as the US wants things for now.

"The Bush administration could have made getting more international participation - troops and money - a larger focus of its diplomacy, and it would have used the resolution to do that," says Mr. Feinstein, a former State Department official. "But that would have required real bargaining, whereas they preferred the large American embassy that's being set up working pretty much alone with the Iraqi government."

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