Britain, US at odds over Iraq

Britain says the interim Iraqi government will have final control over foreign troops, but Washington has said its forces would remain under US command.

The apparent difference between the allies could complicate their efforts to secure Security Council endorsement for the handover plan, particularly after permanent members France, Russia and China signalled they wanted changes to the draft resolution.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: “The final political control (over foreign troops) remains with the Iraqi government. That’s what the transfer of sovereignty means.”

But US Secretary of State Colin Powell told a news conference in Washington: “Ultimately… US forces remain under US command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves.”

The discord comes a day after Britain and the US tabled a draft resolution to the Security Council, which outlines Iraq’s return to sovereignty.

In Iraq, members of the interim Governing Council reacted coolly to the draft. Governing Council president Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar said it “fell short of our expectations”.

He said the two main concerns were that the interim government must have the power to ask foreign troops to leave Iraq and that it exercise full control over reconstruction funds.

He also demanded control of revenue from oil sales, which Washington proposes should be subject to international audit.

Iraqi interim defence minister Ali Allawi said he expected foreign troops to remain in the country for “months rather than years” as the multi-national force will eventually be replaced by Iraqi forces.

France, which along with Russia and China opposed the war in Iraq, and several other countries want an expiry date set for US-led forces, but with a right to renew the deployment if Iraqis agreed.

The Russian government also voiced reservations about the draft proposal.

A minimum of nine votes on the 15-member Security Council are needed for the resolution to pass.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon says it will replace its top commander in Iraq when the interim government takes office.

General George Casey, vice chief of staff of the army, was likely to be named successor to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, sources said.

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