UNITED NATIONS -- When the United States launched its attack on Iraq last March, it did so in clear violation of the U.N. charter and in open defiance of a world body that refused to sanction an illegal war.
Five months later, Washington has returned to the same organization in search of an exit strategy for 140,000 U.S. troops bogged down in what appears to be turning into a guerrilla war in an increasingly hostile Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell came to the United Nations on Thursday to explore support for a new U.S. resolution that would convince reluctant member states--including France, Russia, India, Pakistan and Turkey--to provide troops for a proposed multinational force for Iraq.
Among other things, the force is expected to permit the United States to gradually withdraw some of its own besieged troops, whose death toll has increased to 63 since President George W. Bush declared an end to hostilities May 1.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan(L) and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell speak with reporters after their meeting at the United Nations in New York on August 21, 2003. Despite worldwide anguish over the bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad, the U.S. faces considerable resistance in its quest to recruit more troops, police and money to help rebuild Iraq. France, Germany and Russia, all former opponents of the war, made clear on Thursday that the crisis did not change their positions on wanting a larger United Nations role in molding Iraq's future. (Peter Morgan/Reuters)
But the proposed resolution--still in draft stage--might be a non-starter because Washington has signaled it will not relinquish any of its military authority to foreign troops.
''The issue of ceding authority is not an issue we have had to discuss today,'' Powell told reporters.
''You have to have control of a large military organization. That's what U.S. leadership brings to the (U.S./U.K.) coalition,'' he said.
Powell added that he was working on ''language'' in the resolution that would call on U.N. member states ''to do more."
One observer labeled that as ''trademark arrogance''.
''The Bush administration believes that it can strong-arm or purchase votes in the Security Council for a resolution that gives the United Nations much responsibility, but little authority,'' said Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report and executive director of the Middle East Research and Information Project.
The request, he told IPS, is driven by domestic politics: as congressional and presidential elections approach next year the administration needs to offer the public ''good news'' about Iraq.
''The White House also calculates, very cynically, that the American public will stop paying attention to Iraq if international forces allow the United States to bring American soldiers home out of harm's way,'' he added.
Toensing predicted that Washington is unlikely to get all it wants, but it might still take another step towards ''blue-washing'' the military occupation in U.N. colors, while retaining actual power. The first two steps were earlier Security Council resolutions lifting the 13-year U.N. sanctions on Iraq and ''welcoming'' the U.S.-created Iraqi Governing Council.
Powell told reporters that 30 nations have agreed to provide 22,000 troops for the proposed multinational force. Five other countries are in the process of providing soldiers, and Washington is expecting troops from 14 others, he added, without identifying the participants.
But even at full strength, the force would still fall short of the troops required to contain the attacks in Iraq, say many experts.
Besides 140,000 U.S. troops, the coalition force includes more than 10,000 soldiers from Britain.
In May, former U.S. army chief of staff Gen Eric Shinseki warned that the United States could need hundreds of thousands of troops--up to 500,000--to secure Iraq.
''I do not know what the 'new' resolution will look like if it ever happens,'' Ambassador William Luers, president of the United Nations Association of USA (UN-USA), told IPS.
''But as described in the New York Times today, I doubt that it will attract many new partners for military or economic support in Iraq,'' he said.
Luers predicted the new resolution would provide for the transfer of ''authority'' now exercised by the ''occupying powers'' (United States and the United Kingdom) to other authorities, with Washington and London perhaps retaining control of security.
''I do not see how other large nations will agree to participate until there is a transfer of complete authority away from the United States and to a combination of Iraqis and the United Nations to give legitimacy to the process,'' he added.
''Under this suggested arrangement I could imagine India and some larger European countries being part of the military effort, even if they were under a U.S. military command,'' he said.
Of the ''reluctant'' member states, India has pledged the most troops--about 18,000--but only if the Security Council backs the multinational force.
An Arab diplomat told IPS there is still ''strong reluctance'' from most Arab and Muslim nations to provide troops.
''It's a politically sensitive issue,'' he said, pointing out that the sensitivity is even more marked since the United States is refusing to concede authority to the United Nations. ''We don't want to send our troops to be under the protection of a U.S. military umbrella.''
''And as it stands,'' he said, ''the proposed resolution will just not fly.''
Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, a U.S. think tank, says the Bush administration has reportedly decided, after weeks of internal debate, not to permit the transfer of any significant authority to the United Nations.
''The failure to broaden the U.N. role in the occupation and secure greater international support is a mistake that will cost the United States in dollars, lives and reputation,'' he wrote in Wednesday's International Herald Tribune.
The United States, he said, is currently deploying 90 percent of the troops, suffering 90 percent of the casualties and paying 90 percent of the costs of the occupation.
''A new Security Council resolution allowing for a greater U.N. role in Iraq would indeed require yielding some control in exchange for support--but right now, America needs support more than it needs control,'' he declared.
Copyright 2003 Inter Press Service - IPS