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Iraq

Bickering over U.N.'s role extends into postwar Iraq

©Associated Press
March 29, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The United States and Britain stand shoulder to shoulder in fighting the war, but President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have distinctly different views of how to deal with Iraq once the shooting stops.

Blair, who after all is a European, is trying to build bridges to France, Germany and Russia -- all hotly opposed to the joint invasion and now determined to have the United Nations take the lead in administering postwar Iraq.

Like them, Blair foresees a broad international effort to rebuild and govern Iraq once President Saddam Hussein and his government are overthrown.

Bush and others in his administration are less sensitive to countries that opposed the United States in the war effort. To Bush and his senior advisers, there should be a U.S.-run military and administrative transition until Iraq is safely pointed toward democracy.

The administration hopes for a quick transition. Unlike Afghanistan, where the United States has been engaged in postwar rebuilding for nearly a year and a half, Iraq is rich in oil and that is supposed to make the job easier.

"We are dealing with a country that has a revenue flow of $20-billion a year, an educated population and a functioning civil service," Secretary of State Colin Powell told a House appropriations subcommittee this week. "They are marvelous bureaucrats, 5,000 years of Mesopotamian record-keeping. So we are working with a foundation here, as opposed to the more difficult task that Afghanistan presented."

Powell said there should be some U.N. role in the transition to democracy in Iraq, but "there is no desire so far on the part of the U.N. to essentially become the owner of Iraq."

The Europeans want the United Nations to take the lead in administering Iraq. That could include peacekeepers and a prominent U.N. political presence.

While Blair and Bush made a transparent effort after their talks at Camp David on Thursday to paper over their differences, the prime minister is placing a far great emphasis on the United Nations.

He told the BBC after meeting with Bush: "We're not saying the future of Iraq should be governed by the Americans and the British. We're saying the future of Iraq should be governed by the Iraqi people."

Meanwhile, after more than a week of haggling, the Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a resolution to restart a U.N. humanitarian food program for Iraq once the U.S.-led war winds down.

The discord that preceded the vote reflected the differences between the Europeans and the United States over postwar Iraq and could recur.

Blair, taking an accommodating stance, had said on Tuesday that the United Nations should be "centrally involved" in reconstructing and administering Iraq.

France and Russia, in championing a U.N. role, also are fighting for their companies to get lucrative contracts to repair Iraq's oil infrastructure as the contracts are being handed out to American firms.

"It is in the interest of everyone -- the coalition, the Security Council and the United Nations -- to have the U.N. play a totally independent role, not in a position of subordination to anyone," Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, France's ambassador to the United Nations, said this week.

Earlier, French President Jacques Chirac was more blunt. He said France would veto any U.N. resolution that attempted to "give the American and British belligerents the right to administer Iraq."

The Russian ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, said, "The U.N. involvement in Iraq cannot be subordinated to the coalition."

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