The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a new 12-month mandate that could keep US-led multinational forces in Iraq through 2007 at the request of the government in Baghdad.
The forces will remain in the war-torn country until December 31, 2007, after the expiration of their current mandate at the end of December. The US has more than 150,000 troops in Iraq while about 40 countries provide thousands of additional combat troops as well as logistical support.
The 15-nation council said on Tuesday that the Iraqi government has the right to review the mandate of the multinational forces by mid-2007 and demand a termination of the presence of the large number of forces on its territory.
The Iraqi government requested the extension of the UN mandate, which has been renewed since 2004, to assist it in maintaining security while it builds up its own security forces.
The request came amidst escalating sectarian violence in Iraq, which UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said is near the level of civil war. The US is scrambling to develop a new strategy after the Bush administration has admitted that its current approach is not working.
The White House has launched an urgent diplomatic initiative in the Middle East, with President George W Bush meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Noori Kamal al-Maliki Wednesday in Jordan. US Vice President Dick Cheney travelled to Saudi Arabia over the weekend.
Top Republican officials, like former secretary of state James Baker, co-chair of an Iraq study group, have even advocated direct talks with Iran and Syria.
Maliki requested the extension in a letter sent to the council in early November, saying the international forces remain necessary.
Maliki, however, added that the Iraqi security forces have acquired "new experiences and responsibilities and has grown in size, experience and capacity."
The resolution states "the presence of the multinational force in Iraq is at the request of the government of Iraq ... and (the council) decides to extend the mandate of the multinational force until Dec 31, 2007".