WASHINGTON—L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, has not formally requested more American troops to quell persistent violence, his spokesman said Wednesday.
Denying a Knight Ridder report, his spokesman said Bremer has not expressed any "dissatisfaction" with the current level of about 146,000 U.S. soldiers.
The spokesman, Dan Senor, did confirm that Bremer is seeking dozens of U.S. civilian officials to help rebuild Iraq, as Knight Ridder reported.
Bremer "did not request additional troops," Senor said. "His request was focused on civilian needs."
But a State Department official, who requested anonymity, said Bremer has been discussing with U.S. Central Command, the State Department and the White House the need for more troops.
"The fact is, he needs more troops," asserted the State Department official, who said Bremer has been "agitating" for either the rapid deployment of international peacekeeping troops or more American soldiers.
A senior administration official who also declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, insisted that Bremer has complained within administration circles that U.S. forces in Iraq are spread too thin. The official said there is deep and growing concern within the government over whether the number of U.S. troops in Iraq is sufficient to restore order.
The question has been discussed at various levels, including by President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, he said.
Bremer, he said, has expressed "a feeling that there are too few troops in too low concentrations" to halt violence and crime.
The official said that Rumsfeld and senior Pentagon civilians are adamantly opposed to any increase.
They have insisted throughout the war and its aftermath that troop levels were sufficient—even after former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki said he believed at least 200,000 would be needed for occupation duty.
At least 26 American soldiers and six British troops have died as a result of hostile actions, mostly in minority Sunni Muslim-dominated central Iraq, since Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.
Bremer and other U.S. officials blame the violence on members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, former security forces, paramilitary fighters and foreign fighters.
Many ordinary Iraqis are angry over what they consider the United States' failure to re-establish order following Saddam's ouster and restore basic services. They also are upset over a U.S. decision to delay the formation of a provisional Iraqi government.
Senor said the additional U.S. civilian officials are needed for the next phase of reconstruction in which Bremer intends to move aggressively to re-staff government ministries and entities involved in economic affairs
There is a shortage of skilled Iraqi administrators who are not tainted by close association with Saddam's deposed regime, he said.
But Senor said that U.S. Central Command, which oversees all U.S. military operations in the Middle East, must decide on troop levels.
A senior U.S. military official said Central Command has not requested additional troops.
However, the new head of Central Command, Army Gen. John Abizaid, is reviewing the size of the U.S. deployment to determine whether it requires adjustment, what units might be rotated out and whether troops with different skills should be sent.
The United States is hoping for the deployment of up to three divisions—about 60,000 soldiers—of foreign peacekeepers from countries such as Britain, Poland and Pakistan.
But the effort is being delayed by questions about who will pay.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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