WASHINGTON—To remove Saddam Hussein from power, the United States was willing to go it alone if necessary, but now the Bush administration wants allies to help establish peace in a chaotic postwar Iraq.
U.S. officials say they are talking to more than four dozen nations about contributing to peacekeeping forces, and they ultimately hope to get three divisions, or 60,000 new troops, into Iraq.
The effort underscores the dramatic differences between waging war and establishing order once the fighting is over. While the United States and Britain sent Saddam packing in just three weeks with three divisions of ground troops, keeping a lid on a liberated Iraq and chasing down pro-Saddam guerillas will likely require far more troops than the United States or Britain are able to provide on their own.
"It means that they're finding the going is getting really tough," said former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, the top U.S. official in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War and a vocal critic of this year's war. "The reason it's happening now and not five months from now is that they're beginning to realize it's not the cakewalk that (some in the Bush administration) said it would be."
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483, passed last month, recognized the United States and Britain as "occupying powers" in Iraq, including their authority to build a peacekeeping force for the country.
The United States currently has about 146,000 troops in Iraq, plus another 12,000 coalition troops, mainly British.
The United States wants at least three more divisions of multinational troops there, said Joseph Collins, who heads up peacekeeping and stability operations at the Pentagon.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that Britain and Poland each have offered to lead a division of peacekeeping forces. Ukraine, Spain and Denmark each offered to contribute a brigade, he said. The Netherlands, Slovakia, Honduras and El Salvador have offered smaller numbers of troops.
Pentagon news releases and other reports indicate that Hungary has offered about 500 troops. Albania already has contributed about 120, who are attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the northern city of Mosul.
"There are a number of countries that we're talking to that we can't talk about until they make a decision to commit," Wolfowitz said. "But we are trying to be quite wide-reaching in who we consider here."
Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the panel that the United States is talking to 49 countries to contribute troops, "of which about 17 are currently engaged."
Pace told lawmakers he expects 20,000 foreign troops to be in Iraq within the next 60 to 90 days.
"The projection is that between the middle of August and the middle of September, they will arrive," Pace said. "There's another 10,000 or so troops that are being discussed by various nations."
Kenneth Allard, a former Army colonel and current scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the emphasis on recruiting other nations for peacekeeping "reflects reality more than anything else."
"If you find yourself unwilling or unable to do it by yourself, then you better find allies," Allard said. "The reality of any kind of peacekeeping operation is that it takes a lot of people to get the job done."
Before the war started, former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who retired last week, told Congress that it would take "several hundred thousand soldiers" to defeat Saddam and then stabilize the country.
But Shinseki drew fire for those remarks from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top civilians in the Pentagon, who initially insisted that the war could be waged with fewer than 100,000 troops.
Interviews by Knight Ridder reporters in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq suggest that the failure of U.S. troops to quickly reestablish order has fueled the rage against U.S. troops, and contributed to the rise in attacks on U.S. forces.
Allard said the post-war reality has borne out predictions that more troops would be needed.
"What we keep coming back to is something that's closer and closer to the estimate before the war, that it was going to take something between 100,000 to 200,000 troops to settle that place down," he said.
Senior U.S. officials say attacks against American troops are being waged by holdouts of the ousted regime, though they insist there is no evidence of organized leadership.
Most attacks on U.S. troops have taken place in Sunni regions of central Iraq where Saddam and the Baath party drew their strongest support. At least 13 soldiers have been killed in combat in Iraq since President Bush declared the war over on May 1. By contrast, the U.S. Marines and British sector in Shiite southern Iraq has been relatively quiet.
Wilson said violence against U.S. soldiers stems in part from "12 years of deprivation" imposed on Iraq by U.N. sanctions enacted at the urging of the United States and Britain.
"So, it seems to me that the only way to defuse a lot of this anger and frustration at the United States is to have a truly international force," he said. "We can certainly be named the commander of it, but I think you've got to have U.N. influence to make sure you've got a fair amount of international support."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.