US agrees to time limit on troops withdrawal
The United States and Britain presented the UN Security Council with a revised resolution on Iraq that sets a rough date for US-led troops to leave the country.
The changes were made after an outcry from other council nations about sending a clear signal that Iraq will gain full sovereignty when the US-led occupation hands over power June 30 to an interim government.
Under the new draft, obtained by AFP, the mandate of US-led troops who will remain in Iraq after this month would expire "upon completion of the political process" to create a constitutionally elected Iraqi government.
But with that expected to take until late 2005 or even early 2006, it was not immediately clear if the changes would satisfy opposition to the first text led by China, France and Germany.
Washington and London had originally rejected the idea of a fixed date for the troops to leave, arguing that the uncertain security situation on the ground made it impossible to predict a time for withdrawal.
No date has yet been set for a vote on the resolution, intended to get international backing both for the newly-installed caretaker Iraqi government and the US-led multinational force that will remain.
Initial reaction from some council members was largely positive, offering the United States and Britain hope of relatively quick action on the measure with the handover deadline approaching.
But diplomats stressed they would still have to hear from both UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who took a lead role in helping to assemble the caretaker government, and a delegation of the new Iraqi leaders themselves.
"It's obviously important that we hear from the Iraqis and the countries in the region concerning the formation of the new government, but in general, the text is a much better basis for reaching an agreement," said Ambassador Abdallah Baali of Algeria.
"The input from the interim government of Iraq will be extremely important but it will not be the only element," said Chile's UN ambassador, Heraldo Munoz. "We still have some doubts. We still feel that there's room for improvement."
The new draft says the caretaker government could ask US-led troops to leave, although it does not spell out whether such a departure would be mandatory.
The changes to the draft -- including putting Iraqi security forces under Iraqi control -- indicated a willingness to speed up passage of the measure and forge a council consensus to get behind the political process in Baghdad.
"We have obviously been listening carefully to other members' views," said a diplomat from the US-British coalition, who asked not to be named.
Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari meanwhile left Baghdad for New York just hours after the new 36-member government was announced but it was not certain when he would meet Security Council members.
The UN's Brahimi has been in Baghdad for weeks trying to hammer out a consensus on the government. Sources in the Iraqi capital complained that he had been sidelined by Governing Council members and US officials.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan acknowledged there had been some flaws in the process but hailed the announcement of the new government.
"We all have to recognise that the process wasn't perfect," Annan said. "Given the circumstances, I think that Mr Brahimi did as best as he could."