The United States Must Stand Firm at the UN Over Iraq

Report Middle East

The United States Must Stand Firm at the UN Over Iraq

June 4, 2004 5 min read

The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote in the next few days on a revised U.S./British resolution endorsing the handover of sovereignty in Iraq on June 30. The original resolution had been heavily criticized by other members of the Security Council, who have called for the weakening of American power in Iraq after the June 30 handover. The revised text explicitly states that the Iraqi interim government will be "fully sovereign" with full control over all Iraqi forces and sets an expiration date for the mandate for coalition forces to remain in Iraq of January 2006. Still, even this revised draft may not pass muster with those on the Council whose interests differ from the United States' and Britain's. No matter their demands, Washington should not sacrifice its control over security matters.


An Uphill Battle

While granting significant concessions to critics of U.S. Iraq policy, it is unlikely that the new draft will meet the demands of China, France, and Russia, who last week circulated their own draft, drawn up by Beijing, calling for a greater degree of UN control over multinational forces in Iraq.


A major confrontation is likely. The Bush Administration hopes to extract an agreement before the June 8th G-8 Summit at Sea Island, Georgia. But while it should seek a Security Council resolution that will facilitate broader international support for the new Iraqi interim government, Washington should not sacrifice its control over security matters:

  • The United States must retain command of all coalition forces. The Iraqi interim government may be given control of its own security forces, but neither it nor the UN should have veto power over the command of coalition forces.
  • Coalition commanders must retain the freedom to use force against insurgents. The rules of engagement should clearly give commanders the right to mount a robust defense against attacks.
  • The mandate for the length of stay of coalition forces in Iraq should be renewable, depending on the security situation in Iraq, through a bilateral agreement between the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government.


Differing Strategic Interests

The French, Russians, and Chinese, who have done little to help with postwar rebuilding or the security situation in Iraq, have strategic interests that are at odds with those of the United States and Britain. Their primary goal is to reduce American and British power in Iraq and in the Middle East in order to increase their own political and economic leverage.


The French and Russians resent the removal from power of Saddam Hussein, who was in many ways a client of Paris and Moscow. The liberation of Iraq has been extremely costly to both nations in terms of lost oil contracts, uncertainties about the repayment of billions of dollars of Iraqi debt, and long-term economic opportunities. While Chinese strategic interests in Iraq are far less pronounced, Beijing has pretensions to superpower status and is seeking to extend its international influence through the UN Security Council. Beijing sees collaboration with France and Russia as the best means of advancing this goal.


The growing scandal over the UN's handling of the Iraq Oil-for-Food program has shed new light on the close working relationship between Moscow, Paris, and Baghdad and the huge financial interests that both France and Russia maintained in pre-liberation Iraq. The Iraqi Oil Ministry released a list of 270 names of individuals, political entities, and businesses from around the world that allegedly received oil vouchers from Saddam Hussein's regime. These vouchers allowed recipients the right to profit from the sale of Iraqi oil under the Oil-for-Food program. The list includes no fewer than 46 Russian and 11 French names. The Russian state alone is alleged to have received an astonishing $1.36 billion in oil vouchers.[1]


Prior to the regime change in Baghdad in April 2003, French and Russian oil companies possessed oil contracts with Saddam Hussein's regime that covered roughly 40 percent of the Iraq's oil wealth. Political and military ties between Moscow and Baghdad were extensive. Documents found in the bombed-out headquarters of the former Iraqi intelligence service (Mukhabarat) in Baghdad reveal the full extent of intelligence cooperation between the Russian and Iraqi governments. According to reports in the London Sunday Telegraph, "Russia provided Saddam Hussein's regime with wide-ranging assistance in the months leading up to the war, including intelligence on private conversations between Tony Blair and other Western leaders."[2]

The Russians are also believed to have illegally sold arms to Iraq right up until the outbreak of war with the United States in March 2003. The Bush Administration accused Russian arms dealers of selling thousands of night-vision goggles, as well as anti-tank guided missiles and electronic jamming equipment, to the Iraqis in open violation of UN sanctions.[3] During the course of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, Russia reportedly provided him with $14 billion worth of arms shipments.[4]

Evidence has also come to light of the intimate political cooperation between Paris and Baghdad in the period leading up to the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein. Documents found in the wreckage of the Iraqi foreign ministry in the aftermath of the liberation of Iraq and reported on by the London Sunday Times revealed that "Paris shared with Baghdad the contents of private transatlantic meetings and diplomatic traffic from Washington." Details of talks between French President Jacques Chirac and President George W. Bush were also reportedly passed on to the Iraqi foreign ministry by the French ambassador in Baghdad.[5]



The UN's failure to support the ending of Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship, combined with its shameful record managing the Oil-for-Food program, should rule it out from playing a lead role in Iraq following the June 30 handover of sovereignty. The UN is regarded by many Iraqis with suspicion and lacks both real legitimacy and credibility.


The United States should not sacrifice control over security matters as it negotiates in the Security Council with nations that opposed regime change in Iraq and have been deeply critical of Anglo-American efforts to bring democracy to the Iraqi people. A UN resolution may be politically expedient, but it should not be gained at the cost of weakening the ability of the United States to help create a secure and democratic Iraq.


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and James Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Affairs, at The Heritage Foundation.

[1] For further details, see Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., and James Phillips, Investigate the United Nations Oil for Food Fraud, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1748, April 21, 2004.

[2] David Harrison, ' Revealed: Russia Spied on Blair for Saddam', The London Sunday Telegraph, April 13, 2003.

[3] Peter Slevin, '3 Russian Firms' Deals Anger U.S.', The Washington Post, March 23, 2003.

[4] Harrison, 'Revealed: Russia Spied on Blair for Saddam.'

[5] Matthew Campbell, 'Dossier Reveals France Briefed Iraq on U.S. Plans', The London Sunday Times, April 27, 2003.


James Phillips

Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation

Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow