UNITED NATIONS The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq for one year, a move that Iraq's prime minister said would be his nation's "final request" for help.
Authorization for the 160,000-strong multinational force was extended until the end of 2008 because "the threat in Iraq continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security," according to the resolution.
Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Hamid Al Bayati called it a historic day for the country because the council renewed the mandate "for the last time." He expressed hope that the council would deal with Iraq without any military authorizations after 2008.
"This resolution is very important for Iraq because it shows that Iraq is capable now of maintaining security," he said, noting that Iraqi forces took responsibility for Basra two days ago and now control nine provinces.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad formally introduced the resolution Tuesday afternoon and soon after the council met to approve it.
After the vote, Khalilzad cited "positive developments in Iraq," including reduced violence. He welcomed the council's support for the Iraqi government's desire "to sustain this momentum" and keep the force in the country.
The resolution requires a review of the mandate at the request of the Iraqi government or by June 15, 2008. It reiterates a provision of past resolutions that the council "will terminate this mandate earlier" if Iraq requests that.
It also says the Security Council would have to consider Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's request, in a letter on Dec. 7 to the Security Council's president, that "this is to be the final request ... for the extension of the mandate" for the U.S.-led force.
Asked whether the United States wanted to keep the door open to keep its troops in Iraq, Khalilzad said the extension is at the request of the Iraqi government "representing the will of the Iraqi people. We hope that ... with progress in Iraqi security capabilities that Iraq's goal of self-reliance can be achieved as soon as possible," he said.
In Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters Tuesday that "there has been a great deal of progress" thanks to the joint efforts of Iraqis and the multinational force."
"These gains are really very significant. We see them in the streets of Baghdad in many provinces. This needs to be pressed on," said Zebari, according to a transcript provided by the U.S. State Department in Washington.
A little over a year ago, the Security Council voted unanimously to extend the force's mandate through 2007.
The Bush administration attributes an overall reduction in violence in Iraq in recent months to the escalation of U.S. forces that Bush ordered a year ago. The military claims attacks in Iraq are at their lowest levels since the first year of the American invasion in 2003, providing a chance for reconciliation among rival sects.