More setbacks for Bush on Iraq

The Bush administration’s effort to get international cover for its Iraq occupation suffered a serious setback at the United Nations last week when Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the UN must be given a leading role in restoring Iraqi sovereignty or it would not be involved in Iraq at all.

Annan’s remarks, at a closed-door meeting of the Security Council, were an unprecedented direct criticism of the U.S. occupation and the administration’s insistence on retaining control of Iraq. He was also critical of a revised resolution submitted by the U.S. which gives no timetable for ending the occupation and does not include transfer of significant power to the UN. “Obviously it’s not going in the direction I had recommended,” Annan told reporters.

France, Russia and others also criticized the revised draft. Russia’s UN ambassador said, “We believe that at this stage we should give the United Nations the leading role in the political process, to work with all Iraqis, to develop a timetable which should be clear … leading to the full restoration of sovereignty and that this process could be supported by a multinational force.”

A senior UN official told reporters, “What we want is a sovereign provisional government as soon as possible so we can work in Iraq like we do in other countries instead of being asked to be part of military occupation.”

Bush administration officials now say they may drop their effort to get UN support. With the U.S. public increasingly questioning the occupation’s ballooning costs, the administration has been trying to round up help from individual foreign governments, with little success. Turkey agreed this week to send troops to Iraq, after months of pressure and promise of an $8.5 billion loan from the U.S., but this could be problematic. Turkey’s prime minister said the decision “is not one that will be executed immediately,” and “will depend on developments.” Members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council said they oppose having troops from Turkey or any other neighboring state on their soil. Iraqis, especially the large Kurdish population, particularly object to Turkish military involvement because of Turkey’s history of battling Kurdish autonomy and its 400-year rule over Iraq under the Ottoman Empire.

There has been increasing open friction between the Governing Council and U.S. officials. The Bush administration, trying to keep the UN out of the process of developing a new Iraqi state, has been pressing the council to come up with a quick-fix constitution. But council members have objected to U.S. efforts to control the process and say they favor a larger UN role. UN officials say a provisional Iraqi government should write a constitution and hold elections with UN help.

Meanwhile, Iraqi trade unionists have announced the formation of a new Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), saying they are building “a new democratic trade union movement.” The federation was formed this spring at a Baghdad meeting attended by 400 trade unionists active in the opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime. Unions have been established in key sections of the economy including oil and gas, transportation, communications, food, construction, electrical and service industries, and agriculture. The IFTU, working under difficult conditions with unpaid staff, is appealing for help from the international labor movement.

In Washington, the White House is scrambling to regain a public relations offensive on Iraq. It is under criminal investigation over charges it illegally leaked confidential information to stifle dissent, and there are renewed calls for investigation of its misuse of intelligence to sell the war.

David Kay, head of a U.S. team sent to Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction to justify the Bush rationale for war, was forced to tell Congress Oct. 2 that the group has found no proof Iraq had such weapons.

U.S. troops in Iraq are being attacked 15-20 times a day, on average, suffering an average of three to six deaths and 40 wounded every week, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, told reporters last week. “We should not be surprised if one of these mornings we wake up and ... there has been a major firefight with some casualties or a significant terrorist attack that kills significant numbers of people,” Sanchez said.

A CBS News/New York Times poll released Oct. 2 found that most Americans – 53 percent – believed the war was not worth it, and 56 percent believed this country is on the wrong track. Bush’s approval ratings neared a record low.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org