The United States and Britain won unanimous UN Security Council approval for their resolution on the future of Iraq, where renewed violence claimed at least 18 lives.
The diplomatic victory for Washington and London came just weeks before the US-led coalition is due to return Iraq’s sovereignty on June 30, a date that marks the end of the formal occupation of the conflict-torn country.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the vote, saying the world must now unite behind Baghdad’s democratic future.
“This is an important milestone for the new Iraq,” Blair said in a statement.
US ambassador John Negroponte told the council: “This resolution makes clear that Iraq’s sovereignty will be undiluted.”
Meanwhile, four hostages held in Iraq — three Italians and a Pole — were released and a number of their kidnappers arrested in a raid by coalition forces. The Italians were abducted in April, while the Pole was kidnapped last week.
All four freed hostages were said to be safe.
The United States and Britain clinched their diplomatic triumph late Monday with a compromise that won over France and Germany, two of the most vocal critics of the war that brought down Saddam Hussein over a year ago.
The wide-ranging resolution returns Iraq’s sovereignty with the endorsement of the international community, and helps close more than a year of public ill will over the US-led war.
The resolution gives Iraq control over the country’s security forces and makes it clear that the 150,000-strong US-led force will remain after June 30 only at the request of the Iraqi government.
The measure stops short of giving Iraq a veto over military action that France had sought, with the backing of Germany and other council nations.
But under the compromise, the United States and Iraq pledged to forge a policy to cooperate on “sensitive military operations,” a key phrase that helped secure the backing of Paris and Berlin.
The four hostages rescued in Iraq — three Italian security guards and a Polish contractor — had all been held at the same location and coalition forces had captured some of their abductors, according to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the US military commander in Iraq.
He declined to give further details of the raid.
A spokesman for the employer of the Polish contractor said that the hostages had been released in Ramadi, northwest of Baghdad, but there was no confirmation from the US-led authorities in Iraq.
The relief in Italy and Poland was dampened by news that two Turkish men, senior employees of a Turkish construction company, had been taken hostage in Iraq late Sunday, according to a Turkish government official.
But the construction company for which the pair worked later said one man had been freed and returned safely, while his colleague and their driver could be released Wednesday morning.
In the latest bloodshed in Iraq, 18 people including a US soldier were killed and 68 people were wounded in attacks that largely occured in Iraq’s Sunni Muslim heartland, where insurgent attacks are commonplace.
At least six soldiers serving with Polish-led forces in Iraq were killed and several more wounded in a blast during a demining operation, officials said.
Those killed in the explosion at Suwayrah, south of Baghdad, included three Slovaks, two Polish nationals and a Latvian, officials from the three countries said.
“The incident took place during a demining operation,” said Polish military spokesman Colonel Zdzislaw Gnatowski. “The accident happened in an old munitions depot dating back to the Saddam Hussein era.”
However, the spokesman later told AFP that the deaths could also have been the result of a mortar or rocket attack.
A suicide car bomb and a roadside bomb exploded simultaneously in the northern city of Mosul, killing 10 people and wounding 37, according to hospitals.
An hour earlier, a suicide car bomb exploded as Iraqis queued for work at a US military base in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, killing one US soldier and one Iraqi and wounding 31 other people, including 10 US troops, military and medical sources said.
The death brought to 608 the number of US troops killed in action since the US-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003, with another US soldier killed west of Baghdad on Monday.
And saboteurs attacked the Kirkuk-Turkey pipeline, Iraq’s main oil export artery, the security chief for the Northern Oil Company (NOC) said.
“Assailants detonated sound grenades on the pipeline Sunday at dawn, 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Kirkuk, causing damage and the loss of a huge quantity of oil,” said NOC security chief Ghazi Talabani.
The controversy over the treatment of Iraqi prisoners persisted.
US Attorney General John Ashcroft on Tuesday refused to give lawmakers copies of a Justice Department memo that allegedly advised the White House that torture during ‘war on terror’ interrogations could be justified.
The Washington Post said an August 2002 memo sent by the Justice Department in response to a Central Intelligence Agency request for legal guidance said international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” conducted in the war on terrorism.