France proposes new government, U.N. force in Iraq

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PARIS - Warning that the unstable situation in Iraq could fall into anarchy, France called yesterday for the creation of an international military force and a provisional government there under the authority of the United Nations.

The proposal, made by Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin in a speech to the annual gathering of France's ambassadors, coincides with the failure of the United States to persuade many of its key allies to send troops and money to Iraq and the possibility that it could accept an international military force under a U.N. mandate.

In a thinly veiled criticism of the Bush administration's postwar strategy in Iraq, de Villepin said: "It is time to move resolutely into a logic of sovereignty for Iraq. A true change of approach is needed. We must end the ambiguity, transfer responsibilities and allow the Iraqis to play the role they deserve as soon as possible."

De Villepin rejected the current American plan of trying to persuade other nations to send troops and put them under American control.

"The eventual arrangements cannot just be the enlargement or adjustment of the current occupation forces," he said. "We have to install a real international force under a mandate of the United Nations Security Council."

Until this week, the United States has resisted all appeals to relinquish control over its occupation of Iraq. But in an interview Tuesday with reporters from a group of regional American newspapers, Richard L. Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, said the creation of a multinational force under U.N. leadership - but under an American commander - was one of the ideas under consideration.

A number of countries, including France, Germany and India, have said they would consider sending troops to Iraq only if the force were formally sanctioned by the Security Council.

Such a move would put France, which opposed the war, in an uncomfortable position. French military planners have drawn up contingency plans to send up to 10,000 troops to Iraq in the event that France is asked to help fulfill a U.N. mandate, senior French officials said.

But senior French commanders have complained that their troops are already stretched thin in dangerous, far-flung peacekeeping missions, including in Congo, the Ivory Coast and the Balkans. Some senior French civilian officials are concerned that by setting conditions for possible participation in an international force, France may find that it will have to deliver if the conditions are met.

This week, two French soldiers were killed in a dispute with drunken rebel fighters in the Ivory Coast - France's first combat deaths since deploying troops last year. Critics of the French deployment contend that the troops have reinforced the partitioning of the country and allowed factions to arm themselves, but that a French withdrawal would be perceived as an abandonment of its former colony.

French President Jacques Chirac, meanwhile, will give a speech to his country's ambassadors today before going to New York for the General Assembly next month.

It will be Chirac's first trip to the United States since before the Iraq war, and before the rift with the United States after France insisted that U.N. weapons inspectors be given more time to look for weapons of mass destruction and threatened to veto any resolution authorizing war. Chirac is expected to meet with President Bush during the trip.

In his speech, de Villepin also said the American-appointed Governing Council in Iraq should be replaced by "a real provisional government whose legitimacy would be reinforced by the United Nations." He called on the Security Council to pass a resolution scheduling elections for a constituent assembly by the end of the year.

Referring to mounting lawlessness and attacks on coalition troops, de Villepin said that the American-led coalition faces "a multiplication of terrorist acts, while the Iraqi people are beginning to despair of taking their destiny in hand." He warned of "new dangers - terrorism, of course, and also looming anarchy."

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