July 17, 2003
U.S. May Seek U.N. Assistance in Volatile Iraq
* The White House says it is talking with foreign leaders about widening the organization's role. General calls conflict a 'guerrilla-type war.'
By Paul Richter and Esther Schrader, Times Staff Writers
Faced with mounting casualties and costs, the Bush administration said Wednesday that it was talking with foreign leaders about broadening U.N. authority in Iraq, even as a key commander said the Pentagon would extend the tours of war-weary U.S. troops to a full year to fight what has become a guerrilla war.
Until now, the administration has sought to limit U.N. activities in Iraq to humanitarian relief and has sought assistance from other countries on a nation-by-nation basis. A U.S. decision to go back to the United Nations would mark a fundamental shift in an approach that now gives the United States full control--and blame-- for whatever happens in the volatile country.
But the Bush administration may have little choice. With the new chief of the Central Command saying Wednesday that U.S. forces were now battling a "classic" guerrilla war, coordinated on a regional level in Iraq, the need for a substantial troop presence was likely to continue for some time. The U.S. has had a hard time getting other nations to commit significant numbers of troops to supplement its forces in Iraq. Some governments have said they would only contribute troops or police after a clear U.N. mandate.
Speaking during an appearance with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that U.S. talks with other governments and U.N. officials were still preliminary.
But there is mounting pressure on the administration from Congress to find ways to share the costs--and risks.
Congress also kept up its questions about the prewar intelligence on Iraq. Democratic and Republican senators weighed expanding their probe after spending nearly five hours pressing CIA Director George J. Tenet to account for claims regarding Baghdad's nuclear program and the broader failure to find banned weapons.
Democrats said they would like to hear from White House officials next, and even a key Republican, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the intelligence committee, indicated that administration officials could be asked to testify.
Gen. John Abizaid's announcement of an extension of soldiers' tours is likely to send shock waves through the ranks. Abizaid made his comments during a Pentagon briefing, his first as chief of the Central Command, which oversees U.S. military activities in the Middle East and Central Asia. Tours associated with major combat operations have been no longer than four months since the Vietnam War.
Abizaid also acknowledged for the first time that U.S. forces were facing a "classic guerrilla-type war situation" throughout the country--an assertion that appears to contradict earlier statements by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has sought to play down the guerrilla threat.
Abizaid said that in addition to guerrilla-style resistance to U.S. forces from former mid- and upper-level Iraqi officials, troops in Iraq also faced increasing threats from foreign terrorist groups that have established or reestablished bases in the country. He said those groups probably include Al Qaeda.
"There are those that would sympathize with [Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden] that have moved into Iraq and are trying to kill us," Abizaid said.
Guerrilla warfare is usually defined as organized campaigns by irregular soldiers who hide in the wilderness or among civilians and spring surprise attacks on a dominant conventional force.
Before the Iraq war, many U.S. analysts and defense officials had dismissed the threat of a postwar guerrilla insurgency, arguing that Saddam Hussein's Baath Party did not have enough support from ordinary Iraqis to mount a serious campaign. But Iraqis have carried out assassinations of U.S. allies, sabotaged infrastructure and attacked troops on an almost daily basis.
Bush administration officials have sought to limit the influence of other countries in the Iraq reconstruction, fearing that shared power could interfere with their effort to build a free-market, democratic state at the center of a new Middle East. But without the United Nations imprimatur, it has been difficult for some countries to build domestic support for the idea of contributing police and troops to the U.S.-led rebuilding effort.
On Monday, India said it would not, without a U.N. role, contribute the more than 17,000 peacekeepers requested by the United States. France and Germany, prominent opponents of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, have made similar statements.
Diplomats said the U.N. discussions would probably focus on the idea of a new Security Council resolution much like the one that gave the organization's blessing to the International Security Assistance Force now patrolling Afghanistan, under U.S. leadership.
The December 2001 resolution authorized creation of the force, urged members to contribute troops, but kept the force under national, rather than U.N., leadership. Diplomats said no country was urging creation of a blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeeping force. Such forces are less well-suited for dangerous combat situations such as the one in Iraq; the Pentagon would probably also oppose such a move because it would split the military authority, diplomats noted.
Some U.S. lawmakers and foreign policy experts have been predicting that the challenges of the mission would lead the United States to make an about-face, and grant the United Nations a greater role.
The United States military is now spending about $3.9 billion a month in Iraq, and more than $800 million a month in Afghanistan. If casualty rates continue, the U.S. will soon have lost more soldiers since major military operations ended May 1 than it did in the period before.
"I think this ultimately will end up with peacekeeping forces out there under a United Nations mandate, which will necessitate a larger U.N. role in the political process too," said Nancy Soderberg, a vice president of the consulting firm International Crisis Group in New York and a former National Security Council official in the Clinton administration.
One senior Senate aide said the proposal to draw in the United Nations certainly had support within the State Department and might also have some support from Pentagon officials who might "be looking for an exit strategy" from Iraq.
Democratic lawmakers have been making ever-louder demands that the administration turn to the United Nations, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, for help in the rebuilding effort.
Even so, one senior U.S. official urged caution.
It is doubtful, the official said, that the French or Germans would agree to contribute troops, even with U.N. blessing. He said the existing U.N. resolution on postwar Iraq, No. 1483, already provides a sufficient basis for countries that wish to send troops.
"We haven't adopted this as our strategy because it's not clear what it's going to give anybody," the official said. "But if there's some momentum on the council, I'm sure we'll look at it."
In his remarks, Powell said that "there are some nations who have expressed the desire for more of a mandate from the United Nations, and I am in conversations with some ministers about this."
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in an appearance in New York, said the question was "not just an issue for Germany and France. Other nations are grappling with the issue, and the question has been posed as to whether or not Security Council action could improve the situation."
At the Pentagon, Abizaid painted a stark picture of the situation on the ground in Iraq.
The most significant problem for U.S. forces, he said, were mid-level Baath Party officials trying to bring Hussein back to power. Their attacks were growing in sophistication and coordination, with fighters employing rocket-propelled grenades and surface-to-air missiles against U.S. forces, he said.
"The resistance is getting more organized, and it is learning," Abizaid said. "It is adapting. It is adapting to our tactics, techniques and procedures."
On Wednesday, suspected insurgents fired a surface-to-air missile at a C-130 cargo plane as it landed at Baghdad's international airport. The missile, which missed its target, was at least the second in as many weeks in Iraq, Abizaid said. He said he was recently riding in a C-130 that swerved and dropped flares to avoid a possible missile attack.
Abizaid said that although he intended to pull the 3rd Infantry Division, which had led the charge into Baghdad, out of Iraq "by September," troops serving there should expect to serve 12-month tours.
Not since the Vietnam War have troops been asked routinely to serve so long in a combat environment.
Troops sent home would be replaced with reinforcements from bases in the U.S. and abroad, to maintain the level of forces in Iraq at about six divisions--or about 150,000 coalition troops, at least until mid-September, Abizaid said.
He said reinforcements could be drawn from the Marine Corps or from allied countries, as well as from the Army, which has borne the brunt of the fighting since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations May 1.
Abizaid's statement was the first public acknowledgment by a defense official that additional Marines could be sent back to Iraq. Marines are ordinarily used only for combat operations, not peacekeeping.
Addressing the question of morale, Abizaid said he would ask commanders to tell troops going into Iraq up front when they will be going home.
"We understand these things. We are professional soldiers," Abizaid said.
Abizaid said if the security situation worsens, "I won't hesitate to ask for more."
But he insisted that only better intelligence, not more troops, would alleviate the threats against U.S. forces.
"It's not a matter of boots per square meter. Everybody wants to think that, but that's just not so," Abizaid said. "If I could do one thing as a commander right now, I would focus my intelligence like a laser on where the problem is, which is mid-level Baathist leaders."
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