May 18, 2004
By Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Downing Street predicted yesterday that a new United Nations resolution sanctioning the handover of sovereignty to Iraq will be secured soon. Tony Blair's spokesman said confidence about the tabled resolution stemmed from a weekend of diplomatic activity.
Diplomats representing the 15 countries on the UN security council will meet informally in New York again this week to try to agree a draft.
The British ambassador to the UN, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, said: "So far, the discussions have shown a willingness on the part of all members of the council to work constructively for a resolution that will transfer all sovereignty back to the Iraqis."
But there is disagreement on what constitutes "all sovereignty". The US, although committed to the idea of a transfer of full sovereignty, insists it will retain military control after June 30 and appears intent on continuing to wield its immense influence over events in Iraq.
The US under-secretary of state, Marc Grossman, inadvertently confirmed this on Thursday when asked by a Congress committee about the transfer of sovereignty: "I'd say what we're talking about is limited authority."
The US envoy to Iraq, Paul Bremer, and the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, trying to control the damage, later insisted "full" sovereignty would be transferred.
Other members of the security council are sceptical. The French government argues that "genuine sovereignty" should mean the transfer of almost all powers.
To be decided at the security council in the next few weeks is who should have control over military forces, the police, courts, legislation, borders, prisons, the budget and oil revenues.
But the answers will not be found just at the UN headquarters but also in Baghdad. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy to Iraq, who is drawing up a list of the members of the provisional Iraqi government, said yesterday the resolution should only be agreed after talks between the security council and the provisional government. He is pushing to have the names in place in order to make this possible.
His spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said yesterday that only after talks between the provisional government and the security council members "will there be answers to all the questions" about powers.
The US-led coalition force
The main divisive issue is the role of the US-led coalition forces after June 30. There are about 115,000 US military personnel in Iraq and about 24,000 from other countries, including 8,000 from Britain. There will be the same number after June 30.
The US and British governments, in a concerted move at the weekend, stressed that, in principle, they want to leave as soon as possible but that, in reality, they have to stay in order to maintain security.
The French government wants the Iraqi government to have the power to tell the US-led forces to leave. Mr Bremer and Mr Powell have agreed that in theory the Iraq government would have this power but neither expected it to be exercised.
More contentious and complex is the French government's proposal that the US should consult the Iraqi government on any military actions it is proposing to undertake. The aim is to try to prevent a repetition of US Falluja offensive.
A British official said: "I guess we will end up with a unitary command and control but there has to be some relationship between the multinational force and the the [Iraqi] government. We have not got answers yet."
Iraqi security forces
The rebuilt Iraqi security forces stand at 210,000, including 87,000 policemen, 28,000 civil defence corps, 2,500 military and 74,000 security guards.
Mr Powell said on Sunday that these forces must be under US control because in times of conflict there had to be a unitary command - headed in this case by the chief of the US coalition forces.
The French government accepts that there should be a unitary command but with important qualifications: that the Iraqi caretaker government should have control of Iraqi forces, should be consulted by the coalition force on proposed actions and should give its consent for these actions.
At present, the US and its allies are an occupation force governed by the Geneva and Hague conventions on war. Many of those held in Iraqi jails at present are classified as prisoners of war, but that status will cease on June 30.
Full sovereignty would mean that the Iraqi government takes control of all prisons, including Abu Ghraib and those inside US compounds. According to British officials, the US delegation at the UN has not yet set out its position on prisons but one US official has said it will hand over control of most but not all prisons.
The French government wants a guarantee that the Iraqi government will be able to change existing legislation. This would be immediately problematic for the US: the new government could overturn an order issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) giving US troops immunity from Iraqi courts.
Full sovereignty would mean the Iraq government could introduce whatever laws it wanted, including Islamist laws on women, alcohol and other issues, a move some Shia clerics are pressing for. In order to do so, the government would have to overturn an order introduced by the CPA banning any Islamist legislation that would infringe human rights, including the rights of women.
There is a further problem: after June 30, the legal status of soldiers from the multinational force becomes unclear. British commanders have expressed concern to the Ministry of Defence about this. If soldiers from the multinational force are involved in a firefight with Iraqis, what law will cover their actions?
All the security council members involved in initial talks in New York last week insisted that Iraq should have control over its own budget, including oil revenues.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq has earned $18bn in oil revenues. The oil money is held in the US Federal Reserve and America wants control of it to remain with an international board.
The US has already spent about half the revenue, much of it on long-term contracts with construction companies.
John Negroponte, who becomes the US ambassador to Iraq after June 30, has said the Americans will continue to manage these funds but in consultation with the Iraqi government.
The UN spokesman, Mr Fawzi, said the issue of who should have control of the borders has still be be answered.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004