The deadly bomb attack in the Iraqi city of Najaf on Friday that killed 87 people has intensified calls by European leaders for the U.N. to play a central role in the increasingly volatile country.
Iraqis mourn the death of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, killed in Friday's bomb attack.
European leaders reacted with shock and anger to Friday’s car bombing in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf that slew a key U.S. ally from Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, leading cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, and killed scores of other Muslims.
A car bomb exploded next in Najaf, Iraq on Friday Aug. 29, 2003.
But even as U.S. President Bush condemned the bombing as a "vicious act of terrorism" and avowed it wouldn’t deter Washington from attempts to build a "free and stable country" in Iraq, European leaders, chiefly France, were reiterating demands the U.N. should step in and play a more prominent role.
Chirac: "Power back to the Iraqis"
On Friday, French President Chirac (photo), one of the most vocal opponents of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, warned that stepping up security preparations in Iraq shouldn’t be the only reaction to the growing chaos in the country. "The answer must be political above all," he said while addressing a gathering of diplomats at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
French President Jacques Chirac
"The transfer of power back to the Iraqis is the only realistic option," he underlined. "It must be implemented immediately in the framework of a process which only the United Nations can fully legitimize, backed by countries in the region." He added, "Once this framework is established, the international community can bring full and efficient support to the country's reconstruction, in a way that should be determined with the Iraqis themselves."
His comments follow warnings by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin a day earlier that the unstable situation Iraq could fall into "anarchy". Villepin urged the creation of an international military force for Iraq and a provisional government under United Nations authority. "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." France, he stressed, wanted a "real international force."
France has also dismissed American efforts to persuade other countries to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq and place them under U.S. control. Earlier this week, it called for a U.N. Security Council resolution scheduling elections for a constituent assembly in Iraq by the end of the year.
Clamor increases for greater U.N. role in Iraq
Other European leaders also followed the French lead in urging a greater role for the U.N. in the face of continuing instability.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, the current president of the rotating EU presidency, said he was in favor of a new U.N. resolution and added it would smooth the way for a united EU position over the Iraq issue. Speaking at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sardinia, Berlusconi added the Americans shouldn’t be left alone in Iraq.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the German government had reacted with "anger and dismay" to the "murderous attack" and said those responsible should be "caught and stringently punished." He however didn’t refer to the U.N. role.
U.S. shows signs of wavering
Until now, the United States has opposed all appeals to relinquish control over its occupation of Iraq and rope in international support under a U.N. mandate.
But in one of the first signs that the U.S. might be changing tack in the face of mounting casualties and costs in Iraq, Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, said in a newspaper interview on Friday that the creation of a multinational force under U.N. leadership – but under an American commander – was under consideration.
A number of countries, including France and Germany, have said they would consider sending troops to Iraq only if the force were formally sanctioned by the Security Council and was under a U.N. mandate.
Richard Perle (photo), a key advisor to the Pentagon and a staunch critic of the French refusal to support the war, also told French daily Le Figaro in a candid interview published Thursday, "our main mistake, in my opinion, is that we haven’t succeeded in working closely with the Iraqis before the war, so that an Iraqi opposition could have been able to immediately take the matter in hand." Perle added, "Today, the solution is to hand over power to the Iraqis as soon as possible."