Bush aims for UN's return in search for exit strategy

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Washington is lobbying up to a dozen countries to commit troops solely to protect United Nations personnel in the hope of convincing the UN to return to Baghdad.

Washington is lobbying up to a dozen countries to commit troops solely to protect United Nations personnel in the hope of convincing the UN to return to Baghdad.

As the violence against Allied troops escalates, the Bush administration is pinning its hopes on the UN agreeing to redeploy its staff in time for the transition, which is scheduled for 30 June. The US envisages a force of about 1,500 soldiers to protect between 150 and 500 UN personnel, who would help organise elections and finalise a constitution after transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, withdrew his staff in October after an attack on UN headquarters that killed 22 people, including his representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Washington is also hoping to drive a new resolution through the UN Security Council before the hand-over date to define precisely what the UN's role will be in Iraq following the transition. But diplomats said yesterday that any such vote was not likely until late May at the earliest. Mr Annan's special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, returns next week from talks with Iraqis.

France, India and Pakistan have been approached. The US has not, however, made its proposal to any Arab neighbours of Iraq or to Turkey.

* Labour MPs have demanded the recall of Parliament on Monday because of the "dire" situation in Iraq. The request to the Speaker for a recall was made yesterday by Father of the House Tam Dalyell and Alice Mahon, both opponents of the war.

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