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President, Blair Discuss Post-War Iraq, Say U.N. Is "Vital"

Blair said, ”This new Iraq that will emerge is not to be run either by us or, indeed, by the U.N. That is a false choice. It will be run by the Iraqi people.”

“All of us will do what we can to help in that process of transition. We are, of course, agreed, as we say in our joint statement, that there will be a vital role for the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq. But the key is that Iraq, in the end, should be governed by the Iraqi people.”

The two leaders spoke after a meeting in Northern Ireland to discuss the war in Iraq and other international issues.

President Bush said in the immediate aftermath of the war an “interim authority” that includes both current Iraqi citizens and exiles of the Saddam Hussein regime would govern the country.

“The interim authority will serve until a permanent government can be chosen by the Iraqi people. The rebuilding of Iraq will require the support and expertise of the international community. We’re committed to working with international institutions, including the United Nations, which will have a vital role to play in this task,” Mr. Bush said.

Nations like France and Germany, along with some U.N. officials have said the international body should play a political role in Iraq and not just be used to help with reconstruction and humanitarian relief.

U.N. General Assembly President Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic said Tuesday the U.N. should play a role “in the reconstruction of the economy and reconstruction of the industrial infrastructure of Iraq, but also in the political transformation to a more democratic, free and independent Iraq.”

The Bush administration is reportedly wary of a major political role for the United Nations, while British officials have appeared more supportive of the idea.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Blair stressed that differences over approach should not derail the effort to stabilize Iraq.

“The important thing is not to get into some battle about words of the precise role here or there; but let’s all work together internationally — the coalition forces, the international community together — to do what we really should be doing, which is making sure that that will of the Iraqi people is properly expressed in institutions that in the end they own, not any outside power or authority,” Blair said Tuesday.

In particular, Blair stressed the need to get past the diplomatic wrangling that occurred before the war in which the U.N. Security Council failed to endorse a second resolution that would have more directly authorized military action against Iraq.

“There is no reason whatever why we need to go back into the wrangles we had over the so-called second resolution,” Blair told reporters. “If people keep in mind the key objective — which is the well-being of the Iraqi people … I think we all then share the responsibilities to make that objective be fulfilled in terms of what the Iraqi people want, in terms of their democratic rights, in terms of their prosperity, in terms of their freedom.”

Although the two coalition leaders stressed the need to install an Iraqi-selected government, American officials have said it will take time. On Sunday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz predicted it might take at least six months to create a new Iraqi government.

Coalition officials have said little about who might serve in an interim administration, but several key exile leaders have returned or are about to return to the war-torn nation.

Sunday, American forces airlifted hundreds of soldiers from the Iraqi National Congress, headed by their leader Ahmed Chalabi, into southern Iraq. General Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they would help form a future Iraqi army.

But U.S. officials, including the president, have denied that the U.S. has already decided to put that group, or any other, in charge.

“I hear a lot of talk here about how we’re going to impose this leader or that leader. Forget it. From day one, we have said the Iraqi people are capable of running their own country. That’s what we believe. The position of the United States of America is: the Iraqis are plenty capable of running Iraq. And that’s precisely what is going to happen,” Mr. Bush said Tuesday.

In addition to American-supported opposition groups, at least one major Shiite organization based in Iran said its leader would also return to Iraq.

Ayatollah Mohammad Bakr al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI), announced last week that he would soon be moving back to the city of Najaf.

“It could be a few days or a few weeks, depending on the situation,” the group’s spokesman said. “Iraq is our motherland. We do not need permission to go home.”

Even as exiles continue to return, the Pentagon has established the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which is preparing to begin operations in the southern Iraq port city of Umm Qasr. ORHA, headed by retired U.S. General Jay Garner, will report to Central Command’s leader General Tommy Franks, and is intended to organize reconstruction and humanitarian efforts.

Garner is expected to be the top governmental official in Iraq until a transition to interim Iraqi leadership is complete.

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