The United States and Iraq yesterday unveiled their formal agreement on terms for the U.S.-led multinational force to remain in Iraq as they tried to end divisions at the United Nations and win a quick vote on a proposed resolution to confer legitimacy on Iraq's new interim government.
But at an unusual Sunday session called on short notice to accelerate passage, France introduced a last-minute amendment, backed by Germany, China and Algeria, that calls for Iraq to have full authority over whether its troops engage in "sensitive offensive operations" alongside U.S. and other foreign troops, U.N. diplomats said.
The United States will offer revisions in a final draft today to accommodate several proposals by France, Russia, Germany, China, Chile and Algeria and then call for a vote on the resolution by the 15-member Security Council on Tuesday, U.S. and U.N. diplomats said.
The Bush administration is optimistic that it is nearly over the last major diplomatic hurdle before the June 30 transition of power. "I am confident that over the next couple of days . . . we will see the Security Council come together, vote on that resolution and pass it. And I am very encouraged by what's been happening in New York at the U.N. over the last couple of days," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
The formal agreement on security arrangements is outlined in two letters to the Security Council, written by Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Ayad Allawi and Powell, that call for a "partnership" between Iraq and a multinational force of about 160,000 troops to be coordinated through a new Iraqi national security committee chaired by Allawi.
U.S. and Iraqi officials will "keep each other informed of their activities, consult regularly to ensure effective allocation and use of personnel, resources and facilities, will share intelligence and will refer issues up the respective chains of command where necessary," Allawi wrote.
The United States in turn pledged to respect Iraqi sovereignty and coordinate all military actions at local, regional and national levels. Its three-fold mission will be to maintain security so Iraq can hold elections and complete the political transition by the end of 2005, prevent terrorism and protect Iraqi territory until Baghdad's own forces can assume control.
Under the new agreement, the United States will still be able to detain Iraqis or foreigners when "necessary for imperative reasons of security" despite the handover on June 30 of full sovereignty to Baghdad, a particularly sensitive issue in light of U.S. soldiers' treatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib and other prisons.
U.S.-led troops will also have the right to continue searching for "weapons that threaten Iraq's security," a reference to the ongoing hunt to account for Saddam Hussein's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons -- the main U.S. justification for going to war.
U.S. officials have said that Iraq will have the right to ask the multinational force to leave, but the letters do not formally stipulate what would happen if Iraq tried to veto a U.S. military combat operation, which was an issue when an American force besieged Fallujah in a failed attempt to flush out extremists linked to killing four U.S. contract workers.
In addition, the letters do not explain whether U.S.-led troops will be immune from prosecution in Iraq, a standard condition demanded by the United States anywhere in the world but particularly important in Iraq, where innocent civilians could be killed by U.S. troops in combat. U.S. officials said yesterday that this is an issue to be dealt with between two sovereign governments, not during discussions at the United Nations.
Further revisions in the joint U.S.-British resolution are expected to address Russian demands for a national Iraqi conference to foster reconciliation, modeled on the 2001 Bonn conference of Afghan leaders that selected a new government, U.S. and U.N. officials said.
With only 23 days left until the handover of political power, the Bush administration has been irritated by the challenges and delays at the United Nations.
"To a certain extent, we're a little annoyed about some members who don't have troops over there who are trying to dictate what the relationship should be. The United States and Iraq are both comfortable and have a great working relationship, and if there is no problem between us, why should non-contributing countries try to manipulate the process? It doesn't make sense," said a U.S. official familiar with negotiations in New York who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the debate.
But Powell said the new Security Council commitment to find common ground "shows how the international community can come together, despite previous serious disagreements about whether this war should have been fought," he said on CBS. "Those disagreements haven't simply gone away. They're still there. . . . But now is the time to move forward, and that's what I hope this resolution will allow us to do, to move forward as an international community . . . to help the Iraqi people achieve the democracy that they so richly deserve."