Obama's Iraq: International Mission Accomplished?
Updated 12:20 p.m. ET with passage of the U.N. Security Council resolution.
It took 20 years, a U.S.-led multinational invasion, a scandal-ridden oil-for-food program, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (six years ago) but, on Wednesday, Iraq returns to almost where it was before 1990.
The United Nations Security Council ended many Saddam-era sanctions -- a highly symbolic move that brings the nation back to its pre-Gulf war status, at least as far as the U.N. and the international community are concerned.
After several unresolved agreements, which committed the United States to undo the many levels of U.N. sanctions against Iraq, the Obama administration has begun the formal process of returning Iraq to a self-governing state.
That's the reasoning behind the White House's call for a high level U.N. Security Council meeting on Iraq on Wednesday. The meeting is in the hands of the Obama administration because the U.S. currently holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council.
There's a virtual web of U.N. sanctions, put in place against Saddam's regime, which need to be unraveled as the U.S. prepares to leave Iraq.
The ceremonial part of the day is not to be underestimated. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and high level representatives were there from the other 14 Security Council member states.
The agenda for the meeting was described early this month by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice as, "an important opportunity for the international community to recognize the very real progress that Iraq has made both in terms of government formation, as well as the significant steps that have been taken to terminate its Chapter VII obligation." It is that provision, Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which, under international law, authorizes the use of force to prevent threats to international peace and security.
A senior administration on Tuesday described the meeting as, "a major milestone in restoring Iraq to its status prior to the invasion of Kuwait."
So, why now?
This past summer, President Obama, in an Oval Office address declared the end of the mission: "Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country."
But, as the U.S. prepares to leave Iraq, the Obama administration fulfills a pledge signed two years ago to remove the complex web of U.N. sanctions still hanging, as far as the Iraqi leadership is concerned, like an albatross around Iraq's neck.
U.N. action began in 1990, with the adoption of resolutions condemning Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait; it continued with more action to establish the ceasefire at the end of the Gulf War, and to establish U.N. Missions, then culminated in the November 2002 Resolution, which called for U.N. weapons inspections.
Those U.N. sanctions were followed by the 2003 invasion and, later, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
The sanctions imposed several regimes on Iraq, from banning any nuclear facilities in the country, to ordering compliance with non-proliferation treaties, to paying Kuwait a percentage of Iraq's oil income, to assets being frozen related to the oil for food scandal.
Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. unilateral sanctions related to the list of state sponsors of terrorism were suspended, and in September 2004, President George W. Bush removed Iraq from the list.
In a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) called "Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq," signed by Bush in 2008, the U.S. agreed to bring Iraq out of Chapter VII.
Last March, parliamentary elections took place in Iraq and, after months of wrangling, an agreement on the formation of a new power sharing government was established.
The resolutions that the Security Council passed in the Wednesday meeting, chaired by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, will do many things. One will lift the restrictions on the import of nuclear technology to Iraq, allowing Iraq to begin to build civilian nuclear energy reactors -- a controversial provision because Iraq has signed but not yet ratified an IAEA protocol for a strict U.N. inspection regime.
Another resolution will end the residual activities of the U.N. oil-for-food program, allowing $650 million to be given to the government of Iraq. A third will extend, until July 2011, the immunity from claims against Iraq which have been made, related to the invasion of Kuwait, but it will keep the Iraqi payment of 5% of its oil revenues to Kuwait as war reparations.
The Presidential statement, which will be issued by Vice President Biden, as President of the Security Council, states: "The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, and emphasizes the importance of the stability and security of Iraq for its people, the region, and the international community."
Thus ends a large part of the U.N. saga on Iraq. Several Chapter VII provisions remain, keeping open the use of force by the international community, and the nuclear technology provision of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Resolution has a one-year review provision. But the Obama administration has ended its combat operations in Iraq, leaving 50,000 U.S. military personnel for training, support, and counterterrorism operations, and the plan is to pull U.S. troops out by 2012.
What happens next in Iraq is not clear. But the Obama administration has fulfilled a commitment to Iraq that, with the departure of the U.S. combat mission, the U.S. would do its part to untangle the web of U.N. sanctions which has held the country back for two decades.
This story was filed by CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk at United Nations Headquarters.
Popular on CBSNews.com
- U.K. official: London attack suspects probed before
- London soldier slaying homegrown Islamic extremism? 64 Comments
- Man dead in "truly shocking" London attack
- Mexico's drug war 20 Photos
- Graphic video: Man dead in "truly shocking" London attack Play Video
- Who were the 4 U.S. citizens killed in drone strikes? 87 Comments
- Mexican volcano on verge of eruption 15 Photos
- Man, 80, becomes oldest to climb to top of Mount Everest