U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has told NATO allies the United States and its coalition partners and not the United Nations will govern Iraq in the immediate post-war period. That decision is not expected to sit well with European nations already unhappy with the U.S.-led war.
The Bush administration has said there will be a role for the United Nations to play in postwar Iraq. But U.S. officials are making it increasingly clear that it will be the United States and its coalition partners wielding political authority in Iraq until an Iraqi interim administration is in place.
Following a meeting with NATO ministers on Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United Nations would not be shut out. "There will definitely be a U.N. role. But what the exact nature of that role will be remains to be seen," he said.
But, he added, the task of shaping postwar Iraq will belong to those countries that fought the war to oust Saddam Hussein. "One also has to remember that it was the coalition that came together and took on this difficult mission at political expense, the expense of the treasury, the money that it cost, but at the expense of lives as well," he said. "And when we have succeeded, and when we look down the road to create this better life for the Iraqi people, to rebuild this society, to rebuild this country after these decades of devastation wrought by Saddam Hussein, I think the coalition has to play the leading role in determining the way forward."
In March, France and Russia, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, opposed a new council resolution that would have authorized the use of force in Iraq. The United States attacked anyway under what it interpreted as authority to act under previous Council resolutions. But Nile Gardiner, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation, says Security Council inaction deepened resentment in the Bush administration about the United Nations.
"I believe that the U.N. had a final shot at redemption with regard to the second resolution put forth by Washington and London, which was effectively blocked by France and Russia, who threatened to use their veto," he said. "So, I think the U.N. really lost its final opportunity, I think, to demonstrate a little bit of backbone on the Iraq question and therefore I think it lost the moral authority to effectively run a postwar Iraq."
But limiting the United Nations to a humanitarian role is not expected to find favor with those European nations that opposed the war. In those countries, analysts say, helping U.S. efforts in Iraq would be tantamount to an endorsement of the war.
Bathsheba Crocker, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it will be politically difficult for some nations to contribute help to Iraqi reconstruction unless it is through the United Nations.
"The U.N.'s role is very crucial in part because there seem to many countries who are just not going to feel comfortable playing the type of role that they have previously played in post-conflict situations, and that perhaps the U.S. would like them to play here at a certain point, without U.N. cover, without a U.N. mandate for the postwar phase," she said.
Some private aid agencies, as well as U.N. humanitarian workers, have also voiced concern about working in a U.S.-controlled environment in postwar Iraq for fear of being identified too closely with military efforts.