The Bush administration pressed the U.N. Security Council on Monday to pass a resolution extending the mandate of the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq, providing a legal basis for U.S. and allied troops to remain for at least a year after Iraqis elect their first government under the new constitution on Dec. 15, according to U.S. and European diplomats.
Administration officials said they are seeking the resolution now to spare a new government the politically challenging burden of explicitly approving the continued presence of foreign troops in Iraq. They also hope a U.N. mandate authorizing troops through 2006 would encourage the United States' coalition partners to remain in Iraq, and would avoid a potentially contentious battle within the Security Council next year over whether to renew the authorization even though a new Iraqi government has taken power.
The United States said it has overcome initial resistance from France and Russia, which preferred a six-month extension of the mandate, which expires in December. The shorter extension would provide the new Iraqi government with an earlier opportunity to decide on the future of U.S. and other foreign forces, they argued. But the two governments relented after the United States agreed the council would review the mandate on June 15.
The United States sought to extend the mandate "far in advance of the Iraqi election" so it "didn't become an issue in the election," John R. Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a telephone interview. "We thought it was also important to show the continuing international commitment to progress in Iraq. We expect this to be voted tomorrow. I don't know anybody who is going to vote against it."
At the Pentagon, officials announced plans Monday for a fresh contingent of 92,000 troops to rotate into Iraq during a two-year period starting in mid-2006. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cautioned that the announcement, which included only six combat brigades compared with nearly three times that number currently in Iraq, was not the final word and should not be interpreted as a sign of any decision to cut the overall level of U.S. forces.
In recent weeks, the U.S. force level has edged up -- from about 138,000 troops to about 160,000 troops -- to bolster security during votes in October on a draft constitution and in December on a new national government. U.S. commanders have signaled a desire for a substantial reduction after the December balloting but have stressed that any decline will depend on the condition of the insurgency, the strength of Iraq's fledging security forces and other factors.
A total of 17 U.S. combat brigades are slated to move into Iraq as part of the current rotation that began earlier this year. In a sign that military authorities are close to deciding to drop at least one from the list, the Pentagon announced that the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, which had been due to start deploying in early December, "will not deploy prior to Dec. 31."
That left open the possibility that the brigade could be sent early next year, but Army officers confirmed that the delay reflected an effort by top Pentagon officials to buy time before making a final decision on whether to commit the unit, which is based at Fort Riley, Kan.
The U.S.-led coalition's mandate for Iraq was established by the U.N. Security Council in June 2004. Resolution 1546, which authorized the coalition to provide security and support the country's transitional government, is due to expire at the end of Iraq's political transition, which culminates with national elections in December.
Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari appealed to the council on Oct. 27 to approve the coalition's stay in Iraq until Dec. 31, 2006. Jafari said Iraq's national security forces "need more time" to prepare to "take over primary responsibility of providing adequate security for Iraqis." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote the council two days later, saying the U.S.-led multinational force "stands ready" to support the Iraqis.
The new resolution, co-sponsored by the United States, Britain, Denmark, Romania and Japan, would allow the new Iraqi government to terminate the U.N. mandate for U.S.-led coalition forces.
Graham reported from Washington. Staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.