Security Council gives unanimous backing to Iraq force

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The Independent Online

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a new resolution on Iraq yesterday, giving the UN's blessing to a multinational force in the country and urging the Iraqi Governing Council to draft plans by 15 December for a new constitution and elections.

By achieving the unanimous approval of its 15 members, the Security Council has given a boost to Washington, which hopes it will calm international criticism of the invasion of Iraq and encourage other nations to contribute troops and money to help stabilise the country.

The resolution was drafted five different times over several weeks, incorporating a number of amendments from countries opposed to the war, notably France and Germany.

Just two weeks ago officials in Washington betrayed doubts about pressing ahead with the effort at the UN, fearing the text would attract only the bare minimum of nine votes needed for it to pass.

The fate of the resolution was thrown into most doubt earlier this month when Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, sided with France and Germany in suggesting that the text should include a clear timetable for the handing over of power in Iraq to an interim government.

The idea was consistently resisted by Washington, however, and it is not in the version adopted yesterday.

The vote followed hours of intense lobbying of world leaders by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

Germany, France and Russia announced their intention to vote in favour of the text yesterday morning, while making it clear that they would not send troops or funds. The French and German leaders made their decision while attending a European Union summit in Brussels. They spoke by conference telephone call to the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.

Earlier this week, the United States secured the crucial support of Pakistan, which is expected to consider sending troops to Iraq, and of China. Most surprising, perhaps, was yesterday's decision by Syria, at the last minute, to vote in favour. Syria had been widely expected to abstain or possibly vote against.

General Powell said the vote was a "great achievement". He added: "We have come together to help the Iraqi people and put all of our differences of the past in the past."

Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, said the resolution would make things safer in the long term for troops in Iraq. "This resolution ... represents an important step on the road to a free Iraq run by the Iraqi people by themselves for the first time in many, many decades," he said.

"It will not immediately help the security situation but it will over time begin to do so by shifting the climate even more against the terrorists. What the terrorists now have to realise is that they do not only have the majority of the Iraqi people against them but they also have the whole of international opinion against them."

Officials in Brussels made clear, however, that EU countries were not immediately contemplating sending troops to help American forces.

"We agreed that the resolution is really an important step in the right direction," Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, said after the conference call. "Many things have been included from what we proposed. This led us ... to jointly agree to the resolution."

In New York, France's ambassador to the UN, Jean-Marc de la Sablière, said the country had voted in favour despite harbouring reservations.

"This draft certainly does not go as far as we would have liked," he told the Security Council after the vote. "We would have preferred in particular that a clear text set more restrictive and closer deadlines for the transfer of responsibilities."

Mr Annan, who recently withdrew most UN international personnel from Iraq because of security concerns, said the resolution's passage would "place the interests of the Iraqi people above all other considerations".

Washington has been desperate to persuade other countries to help provide money and troops to to rebuild and stabilise Iraq amid growing domestic criticism that President Bush needs to do more to spread the costs of the occupation. There is concern that American troops in Iraq are increasingly overstretched as they seek to deal with attacks and suicide bombings from resistance fighters.