Iraq asks U.N. to renew mandate for U.S.-led forces
Monday, December 10, 2007; 6:52 PM
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iraq has asked the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of U.S.-led foreign forces for another year, saying it will be the last extension and it may ask for the mandate to be ended early.
U.S. troops would still remain in Iraq after the end of 2008 when the final U.N. mandate would expire, but Baghdad wants to change the terms of their presence to be based on bilateral agreements under discussion with Washington.
In a letter to the Security Council made public on Monday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Iraq's own armed forces had made progress towards achieving security, 4-1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.
"A review of the role and authority of MNF-I (multinational forces) will thus be required in order to strike a balance between, on the one hand, the need to extend, one last time, the mandate of the force and, on the other hand, progress made by Iraq in the area of security," Maliki said in the letter.
After an almost year-long security crackdown, attacks across Iraq have fallen by 55 percent since the deployment of 30,000 extra U.S. troops became fully operational in mid-June.
The growing use of U.S.-backed neighborhood police units, organized by mainly Sunni Arab tribal sheikhs, have also been credited for the declining violence, despite some skepticism about the program from Maliki's Shi'ite-led government.
"The functions of recruiting, training, arming and equipping the Iraqi Army and Iraq's security forces are the responsibility of the Government of Iraq," Maliki said.
COMMAND AND CONTROL
Maliki's letter also said Iraqi security forces would take over command and control of all Iraqi forces and would be responsible for arrests and detentions.
"When those tasks are carried out by MNF-I, there will be maximum levels of coordination, cooperation and understanding with the Government of Iraq."
He said Iraq was requesting a 12-month extension of the mandate from December 31, "provided that the extension is subject to a commitment by the Security Council to end the mandate at an earlier date if the Government of Iraq so requests."
The lull in violence in Iraq has allowed U.S. forces to plan and begin a gradual drawdown of troops that will see 20,000 leave by July 2008. There is growing U.S. domestic pressure to get out of Iraq.
The speed of withdrawals has been tied to improvements in Iraq's security forces, which Lt.-Gen. James Dubik, the U.S. general in charge of training the nation's soldiers, described at the end of last month as good but mixed.
He said Iraq's security forces were improving but will not be ready to take control of as many provinces by the end of the year as the U.S. military had hoped. Maliki said he expected all 18 of Iraq's provinces to be under Iraqi control in 2008.
The U.N. mandate is expected to be renewed for 2008, after which bilateral agreements will govern U.S.-Iraq relations, including the size and shape of the U.S. troop presence.
Maliki said his government had signed a declaration of principles with Washington with a view to establishing "a long-term cooperative and friendly relationship."
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)