( AP ) - The U.N. Security Council agreed Wednesday to an Iraqi request to extend the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force after the country's foreign minister said the troops were "vitally necessary."
The council also strongly condemned the bombing of Samarra's revered Shiite shrine and urged all countries, especially those in the region, to support Iraq in its pursuit of peace.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the council members that despite the senseless violence "the government has made tremendous strides toward the day when security will be provided by a self-sufficient, Iraqi national security force."
"While Iraqis will always be grateful for their liberation from an absolute despot, no Iraqi government official - indeed, no Iraqi citizen - wants the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil one day longer than is vitally necessary," he said.
"But today, and for the foreseeable months at least, the presence of (multinational) troops is vitally necessary not only for Iraq but also to safeguard regional security and stability," Zebari said.
Last year the Security Council extended the force's mandate for a year starting Dec. 31, but authorized a review of the mandate by June 15.
Russia supported the extension of the multinational force's mandate but said the council must "signify the deadlines" of the foreign military presence in Iraq, which its ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, called a "serious irritant for many Iraqis."
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Iraqi security forces are undertaking a greater role, assuming main responsibility for security in seven provinces and taking the lead in operations to combat insurgents and militias.
But, he said, Iraq's success in promoting stability and consolidating its "young democracy" will depend not only on progress in the security sector but on advances in the economic field "and most importantly movement in the political arena."
Khalilzad said Iraqi security forces are critical to the push to pacify Baghdad. Since the U.S.-Iraqi operation began in February, Khalilzad said attacks against civilians and sectarian murders in the city have decreased while attacks against coalition forces and high-profile terrorist attacks are still frequent.
Taking a bleaker view of the Baghdad operation, Ashraf Qazi, the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, said that "progress has been slower and more uncertain than had been hoped for ..."
" Iraq is today faced with an exceptionally complex series of overlapping sectarian, political and ethnic conflicts that are beyond the capacity of any one actor or policy to resolve," he said. "This situation has contributed to a deepening sense of insecurity and pessimism among many Iraqis."
Both Qazi and Khalilzad said progress on national reconciliation is essential. While acknowledging that constructive discussions would be "very difficult" in the current environment, Qazi suggested the United Nations should play a bigger role in this area.
The United Nations has the "potential" to assist and develop national dialogue, regional cooperation on Iraq, and international support, Qazi said.
Russia's Churkin said that without international assistance for the political process, leaders of Iraq's different groups would not be able to overcome "the inertia" of mistrust.