IRAQ: U.N. Resolution 1546

January 27, 2005

Backgrounder
Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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Does the new U.N. resolution resolve questions about Iraq’s status?

To an extent. Resolution 1546, passed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council June 8, declares the end of the occupation of Iraq and endorses a “fully sovereign and independent” interim government that will serve from June 30 until elections in January 2005. On the thorny question of who controls Iraqi security, it authorizes a U.S.-led force to take “all necessary means” to maintain stability but requires that it coordinate its operations with Iraqi officials leaving open the precise extent of day-to-day control Iraqis will exercise. It does not specify whether the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) or interim constitution signed March 8 will apply after June 30. This omission is fueling an ongoing dispute between Iraqi Shiites and Kurds.

How does the resolution treat the question of security?

After the June 30 transition, Iraqi security forces will fall under Iraqi command. But they will work in a “security partnership” with the U.S.-led, U.N.-authorized “multinational force,” which is the new name for the 160,000 coalition troops in Iraq. This arrangement gives Iraq’s interim leaders the right to opt out of U.S.-led military operations, but does not give them veto power.

Can the Iraqi government ask the multinational force to leave?

Yes. But experts stress this is unlikely to happen, because the government will rely on the multinational force for its security. Iraq’s armed forces are unprepared to safeguard the country on their own and will not be ready to do so for some two to five years, says retired Army Major General William Nash, director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Until we are able to provide security for ourselves, including the defense of Iraq’s land, sea, and air space, we ask for the support of the Security Council and the international community in this endeavor,” wrote Iraqi Prime Minister-elect Ayad Allawi in a recent exchange of letters with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that lay the groundwork for the new security arrangement.

What is the role of the multinational force?

The resolution gives the multinational force, which will be led by an American commander, the “authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq.” According to Powell, this includes:

  • engaging in combat operations against forces “seeking to influence Iraq’s political future through violence”;
  • imprisoning Iraqis “when this is necessary for imperative reasons of security”;
  • continuing to “search for and secure weapons that threaten Iraq’s security”; and
  • training and equipping Iraqi security forces.

How much influence will Iraqis have on day-to-day U.S. military operations?

It’s unclear. “The United States pretty much got what it wanted in terms of security. It promised to talk to Iraqis about operations, but can still take all means necessary,” says Noah Feldman, assistant professor of law at New York University and a former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, the occupation government in Iraq. “One principle both sides agree on is that if a planned operation will have political consequences such as the moves against [the insurgents in the city of] Falluja or [radical Shiite cleric Muqtada] al-Sadr there will be Iraqi approval before they embark on it,” says Howar Ziad, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s liaison to the United Nations. “But day to day, operational decisions will be left in the hands of the multinational forces.”

How will the Iraqi and U.S.-led forces coordinate policy?

A Ministerial Committee for National Security will be established to serve as a forum for “close coordination and consultation,” according to the resolution. The committee will consist of nine Iraqis: the prime minister, deputy prime minister, defense, interior, foreign affairs, justice, and finance ministers, the national security adviser, and the director of the Iraqi intelligence service. Representatives of the multinational force will also attend.

At regional and local levels, the Iraqi government will set up coordination committees that will bring together local Iraqi force commanders, civilian leadership, and local multinational force commanders. International and Iraqi forces will “keep each other informed of their activities, consult regularly, share intelligence, and refer issues up their respective chains of command,” the letter from Allawi states.

Is there an end date for the multinational force’s mission in Iraq?

Yes. Its U.N. mandate will expire once a permanent government is in place, scheduled for the end of 2005. Extending the mission past that deadline requires approval of a new U.N. resolution. The mandate can also be reviewed at any time at the request of the Iraqi government.

Which law will apply in Iraq after the transition?

It’s unclear. U.S. officials and Prime Minister Allawi say the new government will respect the TAL, which was passed after lengthy negotiations between CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer III and the recently-disbanded Iraqi Governing Council. But the U.N. resolution doesn’t mention the TAL, in part because of strident objections from Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. This has infuriated Kurdish officials, who value the law’s mechanism to protect minority rights and fear that without international recognition via the U.N. resolution, the TAL will be subject to change. “We are officially in chaos and indeterminism in terms of what rules govern now in Iraq,” Feldman says. “This government could have a constitutional crisis before it even exists.” Iraq is some 60 percent Shiite, 20 percent Kurdish, and 20 percent Sunni Arab.

Will the interim government be able to pass laws?

It appears so, but the resolution is also vague on this issue. It says the interim government “will assume full responsibility and authority for governing Iraq” but adds that it must refrain “from taking any actions that will affect Iraq beyond the limited interim period until an elected transitional government of Iraq takes office” that is, beyond January 2005. In practice, experts say the interim government will likely be able to pass legislation that applies only for the next six months. Bremer and former Iraqi Governing Council members passed an annex to the TAL June 1 affirming this right. An accompanying CPA fact sheet states that Iraqis intend “to give the [interim government] the power to modify Iraqi law, including CPA regulations, orders, and memoranda.”

Will the interim government be able to change the TAL?

It’s unclear. The TAL states that it cannot be changed until a permanently elected government takes office at the end of 2005. But when Iraq becomes fully sovereign June 30, the legal status of the TAL becomes murky, many experts say. One way out of the bind: the interim government could officially vote to recognize the TAL even a somewhat modified version as one of its first acts, Feldman says.

What have the Kurds said about this issue?

They have threatened to walk away from the Iraqi state if the TAL is not recognized under Iraqi law. “If the TAL is abrogated, the Kurdistan regional government will have no choice but to refrain from participating in the central government and its institutions, not to take part in the national elections, and to bar representatives of the central government from Kurdistan,” Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan wrote in a June 1 letter to President Bush. Allawi issued a statement June 9 that said his government was fully committed to the TAL. The statement “is somewhat useful, but it’s still just a verbal commitment to follow the document,” Feldman says.

What has Sistani said?

Sistani warned of “dangerous consequences” for Iraq if the United Nations included the TAL in the resolution. This is not the first time Sistani has objected to the document: shortly after its passage last March, he issued a statement calling it illegitimate because it was created by an unelected government. He has expressed particular concern about language in the TAL that awards Kurds a de facto veto over a future constitution. In a June 6 letter to the U.N. Security Council, Sistani wrote: “This ‘law’ that has been drawn up by an unelected council under occupation, and through its direct influence, would restrict the national assembly which is due to be elected early next year. ... This is against the laws and rejected by most Iraqi people. Therefore, any attempt to make this ‘law’ appear legitimate by including it in the international resolution is considered as contrary to the desire of the Iraqi people and a forewarning to dangerous consequences.”

What is the transition timetable?

Resolution 1546 formalizes a schedule based on a plan written into the TAL and expanded by U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Brahimi played the key role in appointing the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) June 1. The plan’s key dates:

  • June 30, 2004: The occupation ends and the IIG takes power.
  • July 2004: A 1,000-seat national conference reflecting Iraq’s religious and ethnic diversity selects a 100-member Consultative Council. The council will be able to veto decisions of the Cabinet if it musters a two-thirds majority.
  • January 31, 2005: Voters elect a Transitional National Assembly that will appoint a transitional government and draft a permanent constitution.
  • December 31, 2005: Voters elect a permanent government chosen under the terms of the new constitution.

How substantial a role does the resolution give the United Nations in Iraq?

It’s still unclear. The resolution lists a number of specific areas in which the United Nations will play “a leading role,” but does not invest it with any additional authority or guarantee it the resources needed to do its job, says Lee Feinstein, the Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy and international law. In particular, the United Nations needs some 4,000 troops to provide security for its personnel in Iraq and it’s not clear yet which country, if any, will provide them. The U.N. mission in Iraq pulled out in August 2003 after a suicide truck bombing at its Baghdad headquarters killed U.N. Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and 22 others.

What does the resolution call on the United Nations to do in Iraq?

Provide advice, assistance, and support for:

  • Convening the July 2004 national conference;
  • Organizing national elections;
  • Drafting a national constitution;
  • Delivering and coordinating reconstruction funds and humanitarian aid;
  • Promoting human rights, national reconciliation, judicial and legal reform; and
  • Planning for a national census.

Will Iraq control its oil revenues?

The new resolution gives the interim government full control over its natural resources, including oil and gas revenues. However, until the end of 2005, these funds will flow into an international fund the Development Fund for Iraq—currently controlled by the U.S.-led coalition. After June 30, Iraqis will run this fund, but it will continue to be audited by an international board that will now include one Iraqi member. After January 2005, the Iraqi transitional government can dissolve the fund and channel the money more directly into Iraqi hands.

What else does the resolution do?

  • Lifts the international ban on selling arms to Iraq, as long as those arms are used to support the purposes of the U.N. resolution;
  • Calls on other nations to provide money, expertise, troops, and other support to get the Iraqi government off the ground and help reconstruct and develop the Iraqi economy;
  • Calls on member nations to reduce Iraq’s sovereign debt, so it can dedicate more resources to reconstruction; and
  • Affirms that all forces in Iraq will follow international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.

Was it difficult to win passage of the resolution?

To an extent, experts say. Last year, there were bitter fights at the Security Council in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Resolution 1546 went through five drafts over the course of about two weeks of negotiations. However, in the end, “no party had an interest in really causing a row,” says Charles A. Kupchan, the director of Europe studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I kind of saw this outcome as a foregone conclusion because the stakes were relatively low,” he says. “The French and others signed off, but they are under no new pressure to really do anything such as send troops, so why not wink and nod and say it’s fine?” Feinstein says he is concerned that the resolution papered over serious policy differences among Security Council members. Three steps would signal that last year’s bitterness has been overcome, Feinstein says: commitments of troops for a U.N. security force, money to help Iraq through the transition, and close and active support to promote the new government’s success.

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