U.S. softens stance on UN role in Iraq
|Iraqi men hold parts of a burned American uniform as they demonstrate against the American occupation near the Iraqi town of Falluja August 28, 2003.
WASHINGTON The Bush administration signaled for the first time Wednesday that it might be willing to allow a multinational force in Iraq to operate under the sponsorship of the United Nations as long it was led by an American commander.
The idea was described by Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, as just ‘‘one idea being explored’’ in discussions at the United Nations. Such a plan was first described publicly last week by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general.
Still, Armitage’s remarks marked an important shift for the Bush administration, which has until now insisted that all military, economic and political matters in Iraq remain under American control.
Allowing the UN to assume more authority would be intended to win the support of the Security Council for a new mandate authorizing the American-led occupation of the country.
In his remarks, Armitage declined to discuss the plan in any detail, saying, ‘‘I don’t think it helps to throw them out publicly right now.’’ But he described the plan as ‘‘a multinational force under UN leadership’’ in which ‘‘the American would be the UN commander.’’
Armitage made his comments in an interview on Tuesday with reporters from a group of regional newspapers.
A transcript of the remarks was made public by the State Department on Wednesday.
The new show of apparent flexibility on Iraq appears to reflect deepening concern within the administration about the unwillingness of many other countries to contribute troops and money to the American-led effort in Iraq.
To help win more financial backing, the United States is planning to convene a conference of donor countries in New York in October, but congressional officials said Wednesday that they expected the White House to ask Congress in the meantime to allocate at least $1 billion more to help the U.S.-led occupation authority cover costs through the end of the year.
The cost to the United States of military operations in Iraq is currently running at about $4 billion a month, administration officials have said.
But beyond that, the American-led occupation authority in Iraq has now nearly exhausted the $1.7 billion in seized Iraqi assets that had been set aside to cover emergency payments to Iraqi workers, Bush administration and congressional officials said Wednesday.
The officials said that the remainder of a $7 billion fund set aside to cover the reconstruction and occupation efforts was also running perilously low. They said they now recognized that Iraqi oil revenues would not come anywhere close to covering the tens of billions in costs of rebuilding and running the country in the years ahead.
In an interview published Wednesday by The Washington Post, the top American official in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said that Iraq would need ‘‘several tens of billions’’ of dollars from abroad in the next year to rebuild its electric, water and other systems and to revive its economy.
In the interview, Bremer said that the cost of meeting current electrical demand will be $2 billion, while a national system to deliver clean water would cost in the neighborhood of $16 billion over four years.
The White House has so far declined to say how much more money it intends to seek from Congress.
But a top Republican lawmaker, Representative James Kolbe of Arizona, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the administration ‘‘needs to be frank with us and say what we need in going forward.’’ Kolbe heads the House foreign operations subcommittee.
‘‘What I think we’re finding out is that the costs of repairing the infrastructure and replacing it is going to be higher than anticipated before the war, and we need to get on with it,’’ Kolbe said.
He said that his own visit last week had persuaded him that ‘‘we have a narrow window in Iraq, and it is important that we make substantial progress toward restoring the services there, or we’re going to lose whatever credibility we have.’’
The Pentagon has historically opposed any arrangement in which American troops are not under American control, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said he would oppose putting the occupation force in Iraq under UN authority.
But administration officials said a model that might overcome such objections would be the arrangements put in place in the early 1990’s in Somalia, where a peacekeeping operation blessed by the UN remained under the command of an American general who maintained direct control of American troops.
Asked on Monday whether he could envision American troops fighting under UN command, Rumsfeld said, ‘‘I think that’s not going to happen.’’
But he framed his answer carefully, specifically ruling out only ‘‘a blue-hatted leadership’’ by the UN over a peacekeeping force in Iraq, but not specifically a multinational force.