Sun, Jul 20, 2003 - Page 6 News List

With Iraq in turmoil, US considers looking to UN

REUTERS , UNITED NATIONS

Shiite Muslims pray after a speech by Ayatollah Muktada al-Sadr at the Al-Kufa Mosque on Friday in Najaf, 160km south of Baghdad. Muktada al-Sadr has called on Iraqis to oppose their new US-appointed government.

PHOTO: AP

With US troops being killed every week in Iraq, the US is considering returning to the UN to try to persuade countries to send in soldiers or share costs, running about US$4 billion a month.

But at this stage, diplomats say, no one has any idea what kind of a UN resolution would bring in help and persuade nations to send soldiers. Politically, seeking UN help would be an admission by hard-liners the oft-mentioned "coalition of the willing" was indeed a slim one, they said.

"There are a broader range of questions to be settled before there is a basis for countries like India or France to join the operation," Britain's UN ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, told reporters late on Friday.

Some 34 American soldiers have been killed since hostilities were declared officially ended on May 1, bringing the US death toll to 148, higher than American fatalities in the 1991 Gulf War.

No resolution is expected to emerge until well after UN Security Council members hear a report on Tuesday from Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN special envoy for Iraq.

He appears before the 15-nation body along with three members of the new Iraqi Governing Council, who could appeal to UN members to join a peacekeeping effort.

Exactly what role the UN could assume is unclear. UN officials have spoken against a "blue helmet" peacekeeping force and emphasized that security is the responsibility of the occupying powers, the US and Britain. Should Washington want funds, contributors may insist on keeping some control over them, through the UN or by another system.

Greenstock, who will go to Iraq in September as the chief British representative, said, "We've got to get around the problem that we are the occupying power, and people don't want to join the occupying powers.

"There needs to be probably some development in Iraqis taking over responsibility for their own affairs before the situation changes," Greenstock said.

France, which previously said it could not help under current circumstances, said it might support a peacekeeping force if the UN played a bigger role in Iraq.

"For us, the main condition is that the central role of the UN is recognized. If there is this recognition, then we can certainly analyze, imagine some participation, the possibility of supporting a peace force, but it has to truly belong to the United Nations," Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told a news conference in Mexico City.

The issue was first raised publicly on Wednesday by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell in separate news conferences. Annan visited Powell and US President George W. Bush at the White House on Monday.

Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, has since spoken to some Security Council envoys, including that of Chile.

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