U.S. considers U.N.-backed force for Iraq
Security Council members' support in question
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is considering having a multinational force in Iraq to be sponsored by the United Nations but under U.S. command, a senior State Department official said.
"There are several ideas that are being looked at ... or explored, I guess, is a better term," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said. "One is a multinational force under U.N. leadership, but the American would be the U.N. commander."
The concept is among options the White House is considering to bring more countries into the security effort in postwar Iraq, Armitage said in a roundtable discussion with newspaper reporters. The State Department made the transcript public Wednesday.
A senior Bush administration official said that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan put forward the idea of a U.N.-sponsored force and that the United States has been seeking feedback on the idea from Security Council members.
Nations on the U.N. Security Council have been calling for the United States and Britain to make power-sharing concessions. But U.S. administration sources have said that the White House, which favors a widening of responsibility in Iraq for other countries, intends to maintain its primary military or political control of the postwar transition.
"It is important to have unity of command," a senior Bush administration official said, but added that other countries could take "sub-command" of various areas of Iraq as part of the force.
The official said that a resolution could also provide a greater role for the U.N. in the political process in Iraq, such as helping Iraqis draft a constitution and move toward elections, but the U.S. doesn't want to "deprive" Iraqis of involvement in the decision-making.
"It would mean more money and troops, but we are also trying to get further reconciliation of the council on this issue," the official said, referring to divisions in the Security Council over the war in Iraq.
Bush administration officials say they believe that U.N. Resolution 1483, passed after President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, offers sufficient authority for countries to contribute troops. But many nations view contributing troops to a U.S.-led force as supporting an "occupying power," and thus the war.
The senior administration official said the United States is seeking a solution that would enable countries initially opposed to the war to say this "is a new thing."
About 140,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, and more than 20,000 forces are from other countries, principally Great Britain.
About 1,700 Spanish troops joined the coalition effort Thursday, taking over duties from U.S. Marines in the Diwaniyah area of central Iraq.
Diplomatic wrangling over Iraq has continued this summer at the United Nations in the wake of the U.S.-led war, which many countries opposed. Among some recent developments:
• U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's exploration last week of interest in a Security Council resolution that would encourage more countries to send troops to Iraq evoked a cool response from council members France, Russia and Germany, who said the United Nations should play a larger role in Iraq, according to Reuters and Washington Post reports. All three opposed the invasion of Iraq. (Full story)
• Speaking last week on French radio, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the coalition powers should switch from "a logic of occupation to a logic of sovereignty" in Iraq. "The real question is whether there needs to be a rethink of the involvement in Iraq," he said, "not only that of the U.N. but that of all the parties, including the coalition." (Full story)
• The U.N. ambassadors from China and Pakistan said in mid-July that a new resolution would be needed to send troops to Iraq. Pakistan's ambassador, Munir Akram, said his country was willing to send forces but that "we need legal authority" from the United Nations.
• New Delhi officials last month rejected Washington's request for 17,000 Indian peacekeepers, saying that a deployment of troops to Iraq could be considered only under a U.N. mandate. India -- which isn't a member of the Security Council -- "remains ready to respond to the urgent needs of the Iraqi people," said External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha. "Were there to be an explicit U.N. mandate for the purpose, the government of India could consider the deployment of our troops in Iraq." (Full story)
The push for a new resolution increased after the deadly August 19 bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed more than 20 people, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top U.N. envoy in Iraq.
Armitage said the United States has not completed its deliberations on the matter.
He also would not discuss how the multinational force might work, saying, "I don't think it helps to throw them out publicly right now."
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, said he welcomed the idea of a broadened multinational force.
"Internationalizing is a worthwhile initiative, and it will provide a clear display of international support for the mission," Sanchez said. "It would make a difference, and we welcome anyone who wants to join the coalition."
The Bush administration, however, has not made a decision on whether it should even seek a resolution on the matter, the senior official said.
Annan has ruled out "blue helmets," or official U.N. peacekeepers, for the effort in Iraq.
However, Annan said last week that a resolution setting up a broader multinational role under a U.N. mandate was possible, but only if decision-making is shared among the countries that commit their resources. (Full story)
CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel and Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.