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U.N. Unanimously Backs Resolution on Iraq

June 8, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: The ten-page resolution is the product of two weeks of writing and rewriting by the United States and Britain to answer objections from countries that had opposed the Iraq invasion, including France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as several Latin American nations. It calls for the Iraqi interim government to assume full responsibility and authority for the country by June 30, when the U.S.-led occupation formally ends.

To walk us through these and other details we’re joined by Johanna Mendelson Forman, senior program officer at the United Nations Foundation in Washington. Previously she worked at the United States Agency for International Development on post-conflict issues. And Juan Cole, professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan. He’s the author of Sacred Space and Holy War, about Shia Islam.

Ms. Mendelson Forman President Bush pronounced himself delighted by the unanimous vote this afternoon but this document had to be revised four times. Did the United States have to give much ground to get this unanimous vote today?

JOHANNA MENDELSON-FORMAN: Well, I think there were specific details on the security forces’ status that were important to the other countries on the Security Council where the U.S. gave a little. But basically the five points that the president outlined in May as the future structure of Iraq, which included security, refurbishing infrastructure, turning over the government to a sovereign entity in Iraq as well as some of the other important issues about the role of the U.N. in the future were all achieved today.

RAY SUAREZ: When you say the status of forces you mean the relationship between the interim government and the multinational force that’s still on the ground?

JOHANNA MENDELSON FORMAN: That’s correct. This is a Chapter 7 operation under the charter of the United Nations, which means that there is a multinational force. The relationship of that force, which is primarily 138,000 U.S. troops and 24,000 from the contributing countries now has to have a new status vis-à-vis an Iraqi sovereign entity. That’s the relationship that relates to how that is going to work out. The resolution is something that wasn’t mentioned in your introduction has an annex which includes the letters exchanged between Secretary of State Powell and the letter of the new prime minister which in fact lay out the operating and coordinating conditions for that status of forces agreement.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Cole, what were Iraqi interests, specifically the new government looking for and did they get what they wanted?

JUAN COLE: I think many in the new government desperately wanted this resolution, a resolution from the U.N. Security Council bestows a legitimacy on the caretaker government that a mere declaration by the United States could not hope to in the Middle East. I think they were concerned that the United States not commit to major military action in Iraq without close consultation with them. So I think they’re happy about the language and the resolution in that regard. But many of the most contentious issues about this resolution are addressed not by the government itself but by forces in Iraqi civil society, the Shiites and the Kurds in particular.

RAY SUAREZ: When you say the Shiites and the Kurds in particular, what conflicts lay unresolved after this resolution is passed?

JUAN COLE: Well, the Kurds very much wanted the resolution to endorse the interim constitution that was hammered out last February between the interim governing council and the coalition provisional authority. It did not do so. That interim constitution recognizes the status quo of semi-autonomy for the Kurdish regions, gives them a veto over the permanent constitution that is to be drafted next year this time. Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani on the other hand wrote a letter to Kofi Annan warning the United Nations against endorsing that document which Sistani does not like. He fears that it contains the seeds of a break-up of Iraq. He wants more central authority. He doesn’t think it’s fair for the rule of the majority to be overruled by a minority of Kurds. So these two political forces in civil society came out differently. Sistani won basically. The Kurds lost and they’re very upset about it.

JOHANNA MENDELSON FORMAN: I think Professor Cole is absolutely correct that the resolution itself is talking about a federal democratic coordinated transition. And I think the word “federal” in the preamble of the resolution was specifically meant to address the concerns of the Kurds. It certainly is not the concerns that they want addressed but I do feel that there was some acquiescence to that in the language. The bigger issue as far as the resolution is concerned is how it will treat some of the legal authorities that the transitional law that was passed in the earlier part of the spring is going to be affected by the interim governing council and what role the Security Council resolution has vis-à-vis that particular law.

My sense is it is embraced in the resolution. The resolution is a broad outline or a road map for what is going to be happening between now, the elections in January 2005 and it specifically gives an end date to the multinational force in 2006 which is a very important point because a point that Professor Cole raised just before this in the month of April 80 percent of Iraqis polled were completely against the occupation so the timing of this as far as public opinion, a question you asked, Ray, is perfect.

RAY SUAREZ: You called this a broad outline, a road map.


RAY SUAREZ: Given the kind of sovereignty described by this resolution, after the handover on June 30, could the interim Iraqi government void previous agreements, previously negotiated laws and legal instruments, for instance, about how the economy is going to be run, and go off on their own and make their future?

JOHANNA MENDELSON FORMAN: Well, the resolution has specific provisions as far as the development fund for Iraq including the placement of someone appointed by the interim government on this monitoring board that was mentioned in the resolution that was governing the occupation. So in 1483, the resolution that created this board for monitoring of resources, there is actually a provision in the new one for oversight of funds. In fact, this is an interim government with rather limited mandates. The mandate is to create an election process that leads to a constitutional convention, which in fact leads to an election process later on after the exit actually of the multinational forces. But this is a different type of question as to what they can overturn. It’s obviously on the financial end there are very specific language in the resolution.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Cole, it remains to be seen how sovereign, sovereign is?

JUAN COLE: Well, this is words on paper. The fact is you have 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. That gives the United States enormous leverage. There’s also the $18 billion voted by Congress in reconstruction funding, which still has to be doled out. That’s an enormous carrot. There are other levers of influence. The U.S. Embassy, the U.S. officials in Iraq, both civilian and military, are going to have enormous influence on the course of affairs in coming months. And this resolution doesn’t change that.

What it does do is, I think, give more sovereignty at least on paper and in law to the government than was initially envisaged. It should be remembered that the United States initially last November did not want the U.N. very much involved in all this. It was Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani who insisted that the U.N. get involved, that it send an envoy to investigate the possibility of the elections. Sistani wanted– and many Iraqis– wanted the United Nations to be the midwife of the new Iraqi government and not just have it be a unilateral act of the United States. In that regard they have won a moral victory.

RAY SUAREZ: Apart from the concerns of Iraqis, if I may, Ms. Mendelson Forman, where does this leave relationship between the United States and other members of the big five and other members of the Security Council which had taken kind of a beating in the last year-and-a-half?

JOHANNA MENDELSON FORMAN: Well, I think this is a good day for multilateralism in our history because up until this point we’ve operated on a very unilateral approach to the whole occupation. And even though we’ve articulated the need to have friends and allies come along with us on paper and in practice we had very few.

I think it does two things: It gives the opportunity for countries who may have been reticent to contribute forces once again to reconsider. I don’t think we’re going to have a great deal of luck there until there’s some greater stability and security on the ground. But on the other hand we are going to have with the president sitting in Sea Island today and tomorrow meeting with the leaders of Europe another chance to revisit the need to share this burden, to work multilaterally. And for the U.N. today is a great victory because it shows once again that the legitimacy of the institution as a convening body for world leaders and for world politics outside of the United States still carries tremendous moral weight in a part of the world which has grave doubts about the U.S.

RAY SUAREZ: Does the U.N., professor, have a lot of credibility in Iraq? Does the passage, the mere passage of this resolution create an opening for the rest of the world to get involved in Iraq in a way that will be welcomed?

JUAN COLE: Well, I think the U.N. Security Council resolution certainly will bestow a legitimacy on this government that it could otherwise have had had it simply been created by the United States. You have to think now, this government is going to want a seat at the United Nations. I think the resolution means that it will get that. It’s going to want a seat at the Arab League. That’s been a contentious issue. I think this will help it.

So in that sense of getting recognition, yes, it will help the government to be recognized as legitimate. However, I don’t believe that this resolution commits anyone to help in any practical way with security or other affairs in Iraq. Indeed as long as you have such a terrible security situation and there were all those bombs and deaths and woundings today — until that situation can be addressed, I don’t think the economy can move forward. I don’t think anybody in their right mind is going to want to send troops to help out. So it really remains the job of this government and the United States to work together to move towards a better security.

RAY SUAREZ: Juan Cole, Johanna Mendelson Forman, thank you both.