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Tuesday, August 12

Bush favors control over help in Iraq despite attacks on troops

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON — American soldiers continue to die in Iraq while allies look on with no plans to provide more than a smattering of desperately needed reinforcements.

By late summer, the Pentagon will have little more than half the 30,000 additional foreign troops it was hoping for to relieve its force of 145,000, prompting bipartisan calls from Capitol Hill for the Bush administration to encourage more international involvement in Iraq.

Much of the foreign reluctance to commit troops stems from perhaps the most pressing debate for the administration over how to handle Iraq: the need for help in what has become a guerrilla war versus the need to control reconstruction through the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

It's not that India, which recently turned down a request to send 17,000 troops, and the other three dozen or so nations that the United States has approached to commit forces are flat-out unwilling to get involved.

Rather, many say they need the international sanction of the United Nations, which the Bush administration is not prepared to seek now.

“If this was a U.N.-mandated operation, there would be absolutely no hesitation in sending forces in,” India’s Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal said while visiting Washington recently.

Getting the world body involved in the central administration of Iraq — it is already in charge of peripheral duties — would mean ceding potentially significant authority to the international community. Thus far, the Bush administration has been unwilling to do that, fearing Iraq could go the way of Bosnia or Sierra Leone where the United Nations' record of peacekeeping has been less than laudable.

U.N. Resolution 1483, passed in late May, grants the United States control over Iraq's economy and its political process until an internationally recognized government can take over, possibly as soon as next year.

Countries such as India say they want a second U.N. resolution conferring at least some authority to the United Nations, in part because they don’t want to appear to be doing the United States' bidding.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has said most countries do not feel they have a sufficient mandate to go into Iraq under Resolution 1483 and favor a second resolution.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has said he is exploring a possible second resolution but has no plans to move in that direction, at least for now.

"We have all we think we really need in 1483," Powell said recently.

NATO role?

Perhaps, the most viable plan for substantial international help in Iraq is through NATO, which has more than 2 million troops at its command.

In a striking 97-0 vote, the Senate last month passed a nonbinding resolution asking Bush to approach NATO for help on the ground in Iraq with a peacekeeping force similar to the one deployed in the Balkans.

"Make this a NATO operation with a U.S. commander … but get more firepower in there," said Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, the leading Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The model for a possible NATO deployment much like the one Biden described is already unfolding in Afghanistan, where alliance commanders are preparing to take over the International Security Assistance Force and work alongside U.S. Central Command, known as CENTCOM.

That said, there are critical differences between Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are merely seeking to establish stability and a bulwark against terrorists, and Iraq, where troops are entrenched in full-blown nation building based on a model designed by the Bush administration.

"One of the critical questions is what happens with the command structure," said Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former senior staff member at the National Security Council.

Bush has made that clear. The command structure remains fully in the hands of CENTCOM, which ran the combat operations in Iraq.

There are no indications so far that NATO would reject working under U.S. command. But it would give the appearance that the United States is merely pushing its agenda behind the veneer of an international body.

A second U.N. resolution would go a long way in defusing that for countries such as India.

Loss of control

The Bush administration’s goal is to establish Iraqi sovereignty as soon as possible with as much stability as possible. Major U.N. involvement could complicate that by transferring power in directions that the administration does not favor such as in the hands of radical religious factions.

Getting a second U.N. resolution also probably would require the Bush administration to open up the reconstruction of Iraq to more foreign companies and set up a timetable for the transfer of power, which could force U.S. troops and the civil authority there to make concessions before they’re ready.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz recently told a Senate panel that the administration would be "very concerned" about any resolution that would limit U.S. authority in Iraq.

The administration might be more amenable to a second resolution in the fall when international public opinion on Iraq cools down and Iraqis may be closer to governing themselves.

Between now and then, there’s plenty of blistering heat and dangerous duty for U.S. troops.

(Contributing: GNS reporter Raju Chebium)