WASHINGTON—The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday that formally ends the occupation of Iraq on June 30, but allows U.S-led troops to remain and use "all necessary measures" to help protect an interim Iraqi government.
The resolution was a major diplomatic victory for President Bush, who sought it as a key component of his strategy for ending violence that has killed nearly 830 U.S. soldiers and thousands of Iraqis, and establishing democracy in a country that has known only despotism.
France, Russia and Germany, which led international opposition to the March 2003 invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, joined in the 15-0 vote.
Bush hailed the resolution. "These nations understand that a free Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change in the broader Middle East, which is an important part of winning the war on terror," Bush said in Sea Island, Ga., where he is hosting a summit of leading industrial powers.
It remained uncertain, however, whether the resolution will help the Bush administration persuade other nations to send troops to Iraq. France, Germany, Russia, Canada and other powers have made it clear that they will not contribute soldiers to Iraq.
There were also questions whether most Iraqis will embrace U.N. recognition of the interim government, or dismiss the resolution as a veiled bid to impose a pro-U.S. puppet regime and extend the unpopular occupation by 162,000 foreign troops, 138,000 of them Americans.
"The Iraqis will like the fact that the occupation ends," said Amatzia Baram, a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace, in Washington. "But because they will perceive this as just another way of legitimatizing the American presence, I think it will have very little effect. It will not make as big difference."
Hours before the U.N. vote, thousands of Shiite Muslims, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people, marched through Baghdad to protest the resolution and demand an Islamic constitution in place of a Western-style transitional law imposed by the U.S.-run occupation.
The march was the first public sign that followers of Iraq's senior-most Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, may be forging a united front with militants loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, a young cleric who has led a six-week uprising against U.S.-led forces.
Some leaders predicted that the resolution would have little immediate impact.
"Without any exaggeration, I would state that it is a major step forward," said Russian President Vladimir Putin during a photo session with Bush at Sea Island. He noted, however, "Surely, it will take quite a long time before the adoption of the document will have any impact on real change on the ground in Iraq."
The U.S.-British resolution was approved after weeks of intense negotiations in which the Bush administration showed uncharacteristic flexibility in trying to meet the concerns of other U.N. Security Council members.
U.S. and British officials said they believed that the resolution marked a turning point in their efforts to put Iraq on the road to democracy after decades of violent dictatorship and wars with two of its neighbors.
"The resolution gives (Iraq's interim) government the best possible start as it leads Iraq out of occupation and proves itself to the Iraqi people through its actions," Emyr Jones Parry, Britain's U.N. ambassador, told the Security Council.
The interim government, which was assembled by U.S. officials and their Iraqi allies and approved by a U.N. special envoy, will assume "full sovereignty" from the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority on June 30.
The resolution calls for the holding of parliamentary elections by Jan. 31, 2005, and the drafting of a new constitution by the end of next year.
The most contentious issues had involved the continued presence of the U.S.-led multinational force.
The resolution authorized the force's continued presence, but terminates its mandate at the end of January 2006, and gives the Iraqi government the power to demand its withdrawal at any time.
In a nod to German and French demands, the U.S. and British governments agreed to give the interim Iraqi authorities control over Iraqi security forces. But they resisted calls to give the Iraqis a veto over U.S.-led military operations.
Instead, the United States pledged to establish a "security partnership" with the interim Iraqi government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and to negotiate an agreement on the staging of "sensitive offensive operations."
The arrangement was outlined in letters exchanged between Allawi and Secretary of State Colin Powell that were attached to the resolution.
Powell asserted that the U.N. vote could help heal the deep rifts that erupted between the United States and its allies and other countries over Bush's decision to invade.
"I think it shows the international community coming together again to support the Iraqi people in their efforts to build a country that rests on the foundations of democracy and freedom and the rights of all," Powell said in Washington.
The resolution contains a formal request by the interim Iraqi government for the continued deployment of the U.S.-led multinational force to help control violence that could derail the democratization process.
"The multinational force shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq," it said.
Baram said he was concerned that the arrangements for control of the Iraqi and U.S.-led forces could create serious political problems for both sides.
He said it is hard to envision circumstances in which U.S.-led troops conduct a major offensive, such as the recent operation around Fallujah, without the permission of the interim government.
"Imagine the situation where the Americans are attacking Fallujah and there are civilian casualties and the Iraqi government is criticizing the Americans," he said. "I really think the Americans will have to get the Iraqi government's permission."
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Hannah Allam in Baghdad, Iraq, contributed to this report.)
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.