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Rumsfeld says he welcomes soldiers from other nations, stresses need for Iraqi help

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Amid growing anxiety over American struggles to quell violence in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday that he would welcome an additional division of soldiers from other nations and that the United States also would begin recruiting former Iraqi soldiers to help stabilize their country.

Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad on Thursday after weeks in which assailants have targeted American soldiers daily and bombings have killed dozens of people, including Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al Hakim. Rumsfeld said the answer to the violence was building up Iraqi forces, rather than adding more U.S. troops.

He said other countries might contribute 15,000 to 18,000 troops to the force in Iraq, but that it was more important for Iraqis to be seen patrolling their own country. All foreign soldiers, he said, were an "anomaly" and should go home as soon as possible.

The leaders of France and Germany, however, said Thursday that their countries wouldn't accept an American draft of a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing a U.S.-led international force in Iraq.

The draft resolution would put multinational military units under an American-led command, set a timetable for establishing Iraqi self-rule and require the United States to report to the United Nations about operations in Iraq.

Meeting in the eastern German city of Dresden, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the American draft didn't cede enough control of the force to the United Nations and didn't transfer political power from the U.S.-led civilian administration to the Iraqis quickly enough.

Their statements appeared to be the beginning of negotiations over the terms of a new U.N. resolution, not an attempt to torpedo one. In fact, said a senior administration official, Chirac had barely finished speaking when French diplomats assured their American counterparts that their government wants to reach an agreement with Washington.

Rumsfeld had been a proponent of keeping American control over operations in Iraq, and he's likely to play a role in the negotiations with Security Council members.

"How it will evolve with another resolution here forward is an open question," he said in Baghdad.

Rumsfeld stressed the need for more Iraqi help with security rather than the search for a new U.N. resolution. He said 50,000 to 60,000 Iraqis, including former police officers, were serving in uniform under American command, including police, border guards, militia members and soldiers. Rumsfeld said he wanted to increase that number to 100,000, but declined to say when that would be accomplished.

Former Iraqi soldiers below the rank of lieutenant colonel would be considered for the stabilization force, Rumsfeld said on his flight into Baghdad on a C-17 Globemaster cargo plane.

The United States has begun recruiting some former Iraqi intelligence officers to work on behalf of the American command. The practice has raised the question of whether onetime supporters of Saddam Hussein could return to positions of influence.

Rumsfeld said Wednesday night that he supported the president's directive to seek a new U.N. resolution, but "adding 2 million security people" wouldn't make Iraq safe. Security will come only with economic and political progress, he said.

Other U.N. missions could serve as models for an expanded international force in Iraq. In the late 1990s, Australian troops were in charge of a U.N. military contingent in East Timor. In the Korean War, Gen. Douglas MacArthur commanded U.N. troops as well as American soldiers.

Rumsfeld said he was convinced that a U.N. model for a wider international role in Iraq could be worked out.

Recent violence in Iraq has included the bombing of the United Nations headquarters, an explosion outside the Baghdad police headquarters, the bombing of the Jordanian Embassy and the bombing at a mosque in Najaf that killed Hakim and more than 90 others.

American military officials have said they need better intelligence, not more troopers, to rein in the insurgents.

Rumsfeld said U.S. intelligence agencies were analyzing the attacks.

"They're uncomfortable at the moment with what they don't know," he said.

The attackers were a mixture of criminals, anti-American militants from other countries and people who benefited from Saddam's regime.

Rumsfeld said the Saudis, Turks and Jordanians, who share borders with Iraq, were working with the United States to slow the infiltration of Iraq's vast deserts. Cooperation from Syria and Iran, Iraq's other neighbors, has been "intermittent and uneven," he said.

Rumsfeld met privately Thursday with U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the American commander in Iraq; and Polish leaders of the international forces. Besides the 140,000 American troops in Iraq, soldiers from about 30 nations have been fitted into an international division, headed by a Polish commander.

Afterward, Rumsfeld said that while recent news had been about "things that were unfortunate"—a euphemism for the bombings and killings—he felt that Iraq had made "enormously impressive progress" since President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1.

"It's getting better every day," he said.

The progress he cited included the formation of the Iraqi Governing Council and city councils across much of the country and the appointment of government ministers to oversee rebuilding efforts.

Rumsfeld spent the night at one of Saddam's ornate marble palaces outside Baghdad that is now headquarters of the U.S. Army's V Crops. The Army has dubbed it Camp Victory.

Touring the Baghdad area aboard a Black Hawk helicopter, escorted by helicopter gunships, Rumsfeld inspected many square miles at low altitude. Despite months of problems restoring electricity after the war, much of Baghdad had lights, Rumsfeld said.

"For a city that's not supposed to have power, it has so many lights it's unbelievable," he said. "It looks like Chicago."


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

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