Global Policy Forum

At Iraqi Request, the UN Extends Approval


The troops are "not occupying forces," but helping establish security, the prime minister said.

By John F. Burns

New York Times
June 1, 2005

Iraq's month-old transitional government, keen to establish its authority after weeks of intensifying insurgent violence, announced Tuesday that planned to move up the trial of Saddam Hussein, bringing him to court this summer. Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish politician who is the country's transitional president, said in a CNN interview from his headquarters in northern Iraq on Tuesday that he expected Mr. Hussein to be put on trial "within two months," a move that would break with earlier plans to defer his trial until later this year or next.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, at a news conference in Baghdad, gave a strong endorsement of the role played by "multinational forces," the formal name for the 160,000 foreign troops serving here under American command, including about 140,000 Americans and 20,000 in contingents from some 30 other nations.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council, in a unanimously appproved statement, extended the mandate of the American-led forces here beyond the end of this year. Mr. Jaafari said Iraq's need for outside military assistance, not pre-set deadlines, should determine when American troop withdrawals should start. "The multinational forces are not occupying forces, they are friendly forces, and they are helping us to establish security, carrying out missions in the interests of the Iraqi people, and under the authority of the government," Dr. Jaafari said. The government, he said, wanted an extension of their mandate "until we have defeated terrorism and restored security across the country."

The renewal of the mandate for American forces came on a day of more jarring developments in the war. The government announced that a shootout involving American troops in the volatile western province of Anbar on Sunday had ended with the discovery of the body of the province's kidnapped governor. American soldiers involved in the shootout said a rocket-propelled grenade had been fired at a patrol of Stryker armored vehicles from a cinder-block building just north of Rawah, about 70 miles from the Syrian border. After they returned fire, the soldiers said, they found four dead rebels and three who were wounded, and identified all seven as foreigners, from Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Maj. Bryan Denny, executive officer of the Second Squadron of the 14th Cavalry, said one captured man had told the Americans that they had a hostage in the building. But exploding ammunition in the structure, and a warning from the captive that the explosives included a homemade bomb, caused the Americans to pull back, the major said. When the soldiers entered, Major Denny said, they found the body of a hostage - identified by the government as Raja Nawaf Farhan al-Mahalawi, the Anbar governor kidnapped in an insurgent ambush on May 10 - blindfolded and tied to a propane tank. The cause of the governor's death was not clear, although government officials in Baghdad said his wounds suggested that he had been struck by falling masonry.

His death continued the grim history of the men who, by joining the revolving-door succession of governors in Anbar, have tackled what may be the country's most dangerous job. Rebels have forced two of Mr. Mahalawi's predecessors to quit, including one who wept uncontrollably in an insurgent video last year after he traded his resignation for the release of three sons the rebels had kidnapped and threatened to behead.

On Tuesday, the American-led forces were hit by another fatal helicopter crash, one in a string of accidents and downings that have raised the number of deaths from crashes sharply in recent weeks. Not long after dawn, an Italian AB-412 helicopter flying from Kuwait crashed eight miles southeast of Nasiriya in southern Iraq, the main base for the 3,000 Italian troops deployed here. Four Italians attached to the Carabinieri paramilitary police were killed, according to a Defense Ministry spokesman in Rome, bringing to 59 the number of Italian servicemen killed in Iraq.

In Baghdad, the insurgent violence that erupted Sunday, at the start of an Iraqi-led, citywide crackdown aimed at rooting out rebels who have staged dozens of suicide car bombings, appeared to have subsided, with a second day of relative quiet. But at the Pentagon, officials cast doubt on the Iraq's claim that it was deploying 40,000 soldiers to seal off Baghdad and search for insurgents. Of the troop estimate, the Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said: "Somebody threw that number out there, and it stuck. I don't know where it came from. We certainly didn't put it out."

He added, "More important than the total numbers is that this is a sizable Iraqi operation that demonstrates that Iraqi security forces are operating in greater numbers and with greater effectiveness." On Monday, American troops burst into the Baghdad home of Mohsen Abdel Hamid, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab group that has supported the American-sponsored attempt to build a democracy here, and hauled him away on a helicopter for interrogation, only to release him later after admitting it had been a mistake.

At his news conference, Dr. Jaafari vigorously defended the Baghdad crackdown. But he was blunt in his criticism of the detention, which caused widespread anger among Iraqis and embarrassed his Shiite-led government as it seeks to draw alienated Sunni Arabs into a fuller role in the political process. Dr. Jaafari said he would ask for an explanation directly from the American military commander, Gen. George W. Casey Jr.

"We condemned the arrest as soon as we heard about it," he said. "From now on, we will confront these matters so that we can be sure they won't be repeated." But he added, "I can assure you that the multinational forces are not trying to interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq." His unambiguous support for the American troops and the decision to ask for an open-ended renewal of the United Nations mandate suggested that pragmatists in the governing coalition have prevailed for now over other Shiite politicians more wary of the American presence.

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