Security Council extends mandate of multinational force in Iraq
UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the mandate of the 160,000-strong multinational force in Iraq for one year, acting quickly ahead of a key meeting between U.S. and Iraqi leaders aimed at halting escalating violence in the country and paving the way for a reduction of American troops.The council responded to a request from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said a top government priority is to assume full responsibility for security and stability throughout the country but that it needs more time.Al-Maliki, who was scheduled to meet with President Bush in Amman, Jordan, on Thursday, gave no timetable for a takeover of military and security operations. But the Iraqi prime minister said the government is committed to putting all 18 provinces under Iraqi control – up from the two now under Iraqi authority.The resolution, drafted by the United States, extends the mandate of the multinational force for one year starting on Dec. 31 and authorizes a review of the mandate at the request of the Iraqi government or by June 15. The resolution contains the same provision as past resolutions – a commitment that the council “will terminate this mandate earlier if requested by the government of Iraq.”U.S. Ambassador John Bolton welcomed the council’s support for the multinational force and its speedy adoption of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Britain, Denmark, Japan and Slovakia.”I think this is a very important decision by the council,” Bolton said. “It shows the resolve to continue to cooperate with the government of Iraq.”Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin backed the resolution but expressed concern that it did not include Moscow’s proposal to continue “the political process in Iraq,” or promote “a constructive interaction” with Iraq’s neighbors to help stabilize the country quickly.Despite efforts made by the Iraqi government and the multinational force, he said, “the growth of violence and terrorist activity continues.” He called the continuing division of Iraq’s Arab population a great threat for the future of the country and said national reconciliation is vital.France’s U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere also expressed concern at the worsening security situation. “We all share the same objective, which is to help Iraq to not fall into the civil war that threatens it, and to recover the stability that it aspires to,” he said.Sectarian violence in Iraq is at its worst level in the 3 1/2 years since a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country and toppled Saddam Hussein.Bush’s summit comes as members of the Iraq Study Group, an independent U.S. panel, mull recommendations for changes in U.S. war policy that would help restore peace and security and enable the United States to reduce its 141,000 troops.U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that Iran and Syria should work with the United States and the international community to resolve the Iraq conflict.”I have been quite clear that the two countries have a role to play and they should become part of the solution,” he said. “And we should bring them in and get them to work with us in resolving the issue, and let them assume some of the responsibility.”Annan indicated this was one of “quite a few” recommendations he made to the Iraq Study Group’s members by teleconference on Monday, hours after he told reporters Iraq is close to civil war.”I think given the developments on the ground, unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there,” Annan said. “In fact, we are almost there.”Asked about Annan’s call for Iran and Syria to be brought into an Iraq solution, Bolton said, “We take due note.” Bush has said the U.S. will not talk to Iran until it suspends uranium enrichment, a process that can be used to make nuclear weapons.