Action must follow the UN resolution on Iraq

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 October, 2003, 12:00am

After six weeks of haggling, teleconferences and tense negotiations, the passing of a new United Nations resolution on Iraq has paved the way for greater international involvement in rebuilding the troubled nation.

Just how significant the unanimous vote in the UN Security Council - authorising the employment of a multi-national peacekeeping force - will prove to be depends on the willingness of the countries that supported it to back up these sentiments with action. And this remains very much in doubt. The ink on the resolution had barely dried before countries strongly-opposed to the US-led invasion were making it clear that it was not sufficient to persuade them to provide further cash or to commit troops.

However, the vote is welcome as it symbolises a determination on the part of the international community to reach some sort of consensus, even if sharp differences still remain on key issues. The fact that the resolution, sponsored by the US and Britain, was unanimous is surprising given that the UN has been so deeply divided over the occupation. It suggests that no nation wanted to be seen to be standing in the way of a unified effort to provide some relief for the people of Iraq. Syria, the only Arab member of the 15 nation security council, struck that note when it said it had taken the 'many needs of the Iraqi people' into account when deciding to support the resolution.

There had been concessions on both sides of the divide. The US has not shifted its position much, but did make three amendments to the resolution in order to persuade Russia to support it. France and Germany also voted in favour, while continuing to protest that it does not go far enough. Given the unhappy history of this whole affair, the formal reaching of an agreement amounts to progress. It is an initial step on the path towards restoring the credibility of the UN and finding a way forward for Iraq which has broad international support. Crucially, it provides the rebuilding process with the legitimacy it has so far lacked.

But this foundation must now be built on. The welfare of the Iraqi people must be the priority. Having backed the resolution, opponents of the occupation should now commit themselves to practical support. Renewed international efforts on the funding front can begin at the meeting of donor nations in Madrid next week. For its part, the US must be prepared to bend more to meet the concerns of its opponents - speeding the transition of power from the coalition it leads to the Iraqi people, and giving the UN a greater role. As the huge financial costs of rebuilding Iraq mount, and the death toll rises, support among the American people for the operation is wavering. The US is desperately in need of help - and so is Iraq.

The passing of the new resolution provides some hope for the future.