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Bremer requests more troops as violence, tension in Iraq escalate

WASHINGTON—The top American administrator in Iraq, confronting growing anti-U.S. anger and guerrilla-style attacks, is asking for more American troops and dozens of U.S. officials to help speed up the restoration of order and public services.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was reviewing the request from L. Paul Bremer, U.S. officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Bremer's request underscores how difficult it has been for his small civilian staff and some 158,000 U.S.-led troops to meet the demands of Iraqis for security and other basic needs. It also conflicts with upbeat public statements from President Bush, Rumsfeld and Bremer himself on the progress made on Iraq's political and economic reconstruction.

Since May 1, when Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq, at least 25 American and six British soldiers have died as a result of hostile acts. Bremer on Tuesday blamed the attacks on Saddam Hussein's followers and foreign extremists.

Meanwhile, anger is growing among ordinary Iraqis over the U.S.-led coalition's inability to stem crime and violence and fully restore electricity.

"It is a legitimate critique of this administration that we did a brilliant job of planning the war, we didn't do a brilliant job of planning what's going on now," a senior defense official said.

Senior American officials said Bremer had asked for dozens of civilian officials to make up for a shortage of skilled Iraqi administrators who weren't closely affiliated with Saddam's regime. In addition, more U.S. troops were needed as a "stopgap measure" until international peacekeepers start to arrive, one American official said. None of the officials said how many troops Bremer had requested.

The Pentagon has been looking for three international divisions, about 60,000 troops. The deployment was being held up because Pakistan and other countries said they couldn't afford it.

The United States is exploring the creation of an international fund that oil-rich Persian Gulf nations, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, would be asked to finance to help pay for peacekeeping, said a State Department official, who also requested anonymity.

Rumsfeld doesn't want to send more than the 146,000 American soldiers already in Iraq, and the issue is being fiercely debated, the U.S. officials said.

"It is inconceivable that Rumsfeld and (Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul) Wolfowitz are fighting this because it would mean admitting they were wrong," said a senior administration official.

He was referring to a rejection by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz of an estimate by former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki that several hundred thousand U.S. troops would be required to ensure stability in post-Saddam Iraq.

A Defense Department spokesman said the Pentagon wouldn't discuss any communications between Bremer and Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld on Monday denied that he had received "any requests for anything that has not been supplied."

At the same time, Rumsfeld said he had asked U.S. military commanders for an assessment of their troop requirements, taking into account how long units had been deployed, what rotations were planned and what functions international peacekeepers could assume.

A decision on new troop strength also will depend on the needs of the commander who is overseeing the hunt for Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, Rumsfeld said.

The senior defense official said resolving the issue was important because some military units had been in the Middle East since before the invasion of Iraq began March 20 and were exhausted. In addition, more specialized troops, such as military police, are required to replace combat forces, he said.

"There is a sense from people over in the theater that we need not necessarily a higher raw number, but we need to rotate people out," he said.

A senior administration official said Bremer was asking for U.S. officials to be sent from across the government to accelerate the rebuilding of Iraq's central governmental ministries. The State Department has sent a list of roughly 50 Arabic-speaking diplomats to the Pentagon for approval.

Bremer "has sent in a large request for a large number of people from all agencies of government," the official said. "It's a very long list, and it was for all kinds of people."

"I think since he has gotten organized, he is realizing what his needs are," the official said.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.