Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Expiry of UN mandate major step to Iraqi sovereignty - ABC News

Change is coming...a member of the British army climbs on an oil pipe in Basra, 2005. (AFP: Toby Melville)

A newly assertive and somewhat safer Iraq takes a major step towards securing full sovereignty on January 1, when a UN mandate that made legal the presence of foreign troops expires.

The end of the UN mandate put in place soon after the March 2003 US-led invasion means Iraq will take greater control of its own security although foreign forces will remain in the country under separate bilateral agreements.

"The main difference is that UNAMI will increasingly and gradually expect Iraqi security forces to provide security, as in any other sovereign country," Staffan de Mistura, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) envoy, said.

The United States, which supplies 95 per cent of foreign troops in Iraq, recently signed an accord with the Iraqi government which allows its combat forces to remain in the country until the end of 2011.

The Iraqi parliament voted last week also to allow the presence of non-US foreign troops after the UN mandate expiry until no later than July 31, 2009, although it will have to sign each agreement individually.

Iraq's presidency endorsed the proposal on Sunday (local time), clearing the way for Baghdad to sign accords with Britain, Australia, Romania, Estonia and NATO before midnight on December 31, when the UN mandate expires.

El Salvador announced earlier this month that it would withdraw its 200 soldiers at the end of 2008, although the El Salvadoran minister of defence visited Iraq on Sunday to discuss an extension at the request of the Iraqis.

Britain, the next largest member of the US-led coalition, has about 4,100 troops based mainly in Basra in the south, while the other members have only a few soldiers each stationed in Iraq.

"We will first exchange letters then sign agreements," National Security advisor to Iraq's Prime Minister Mowaffak al-Rubaie said, without providing further details.

Under the terms of forces agreement signed with Washington, the United States will hand over on January 1, Saddam Hussein's former official residence to the Iraqi government after occupying the majestic sandstone palace since 2003.

The vast palace, at the very heart of the heavily fortified Green Zone where the Iraqi government and some major western countries' embassies are located, is seen by Iraqis as a symbol of the US occupation.

"Starting January 1, the control and the responsibility for security of the International Zone now resides with the government of Iraq," US military spokesman Major General David Perkins said.

"So they will be the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to things such as checkpoints and the T-walls and all that. Of course it will be done in very close coordination with the coalition forces," Major General Perkins added.

See the full article on ABC.net.au here

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