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US envisages limited role for United Nations in Iraq

The US on Friday ruled out a leading role for the United Nations in immediate post-war Iraq.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2003 12:18 IST

The US on Friday ruled out a leading role for the United Nations in immediate post-war Iraq and said that Washington and its allies had earned top-status having given "life and blood" to the war effort.

Washington promised to include Iraqis in the decision-making process from the beginning, and said that it hoped to get an interim Iraqi authority quickly up-and-running, possibly in parts of the country even before the government of President Saddam Hussein is toppled in Baghdad.

"It would only be natural to expect that... having given life and blood to liberate Iraq, the coalition would have the leading role. I don't think anybody is surprised by that," President George W Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, told reporters.

She also made clear that the Pentagon would oversee humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, while other agencies play supportive roles. That puts the Bush administration at odds with Congress, where this week both the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate gave the State Department control of the purse-strings.

UN involvement in post-war Iraq is expected to be one of the issues to dominate next Tuesday's meeting between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Northern Ireland.

Blair is treading a tightrope between US plans for a predominantly American-controlled administration in the aftermath of the Iraq war and insistence from many European powers that the United Nations should be in charge.

While the White House is increasingly upbeat about the course of the US-led campaign, Rice cautioned that it was impossible to predict "what difficulties lie in the future."

The White House said that it would consider the war a success even if American forces failed to find Saddam, whose appearance on Iraqi television could prove that he survived the US bombing raid that opened the conflict.

While finding Saddam - either dead or alive - would be "helpful," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that Bush's "definition of victory" was removing the current government from power and eliminating the country's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Fleischer said that newly aired tapes of Saddam were being analyzed by the US but it was too soon to draw "firm conclusions one way or another" about whether the Iraqi leader is alive or dead. "We don't know," he said.

If Saddam eludes US forces, he would join the ranks of America's most wanted, a list now topped by al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, whom Washington blames for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

While putting the US, Britain and other wartime allies in the lead, Rice said that the United Nations would have a part to play in post-war Iraq, particularly in the distribution of humanitarian aid and running the oil-for-food programme which uses oil proceeds to help feed the Iraqi people.

She said that the precise role for the UN "will be determined in consultations between the Iraqi people, coalition members and UN officials."

Rice said that the decision to leave the United Nations in a largely supportive role was not aimed at penalising the world body for refusing to authorise war against Iraq as demanded by Bush.

"It's not a matter of confidence. It's a matter of what the conditions on the ground are and it's a matter of what will be needed to get Iraq back on its feet as quickly as possible," she said.

The new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, headed by retired Army Gen Jay Garner and reporting to US commander Gen Tommy Franks, would spearhead humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in coordination with NGOs, Rice said.

"The Defense Department has been designated by the president as the lead agency. The other agencies are supporting agencies to the Defense Department's effort. It only makes sense because we are in a war," Rice said, moving to quell power battles pitting the Pentagon against the State Department over the lead in a post-Saddam Iraq.

The White House will press lawmakers in final congressional negotiations next week to give the administration the flexibility to shift billions of dollars in funding from the State Department to the Defense Department to oversee the reconstruction efforts.

Rice said that the first priority of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance would be restoring basic services in Iraq, from water and electricity to essential medical care.

After an initial phase, Garner's office would turn over functions to an Iraqi interim authority, which would include Iraqi exiles and citizens still living in the country. In turn, Garner's office would shift to an advisory role.

"We are anxious to move quickly," Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters.

Rice said that the Iraqi interim authority could start functioning in some parts of the country even before the war is over, but that depended on security and other factors. "We'll have to see what unfolds on the ground to see if it makes sense," she said.

But she stressed; "The interim authority will not be a coalition-imposed provisional government. Iraqis will be developing the interim authority at various stages of the process."

Rice said that the goal was "to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people as soon as possible."

"Ultimately, there will have to be a process of elections and all of the things that go with democracy," she said, but offered no details.

First Published: Apr 05, 2003 11:52 IST