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Democrats call for Bush to cede control of Iraq to international force

WASHINGTON __ After a week when 34 more American soldiers were killed in Iraq, leading Democrats called anew Sunday for President Bush to change course and seek more foreign help by offering to cede control over Iraq to the United Nations and NATO.

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, laid out the most specific alternative policy to Bush's, challenging the president to call an international summit on Iraq and offer there to restructure the entire occupation command.

"I think it's time to make a fundamental shift in the way in which we're going about trying to win the peace," Biden said on ABC's "This Week."

Biden said NATO should be given command of military security in Iraq and civilian reconstruction should be put under a U.N. high commissioner, as in Bosnia. Both structures would answer to European leaders as well as to Washington. "They've made it real clear, they want more say in the outcome," Biden said on CNN.

Last, Biden said, the Governing Council established in Iraq by the Bush administration should be changed into a provisional government with greater powers of sovereignty to lower the U.S. profile as an occupying power.

Biden insisted that America's allies would help shoulder the burden if Washington shares authority with them.

"What would compel them is their naked self-interest, because what's dawning on the capitals in Berlin and Paris is that if, in fact, the peace is lost in Iraq, they're in real trouble this is in their front yard. They're worried about everything from oil to immigration more than we are. The bottom line is, we need more forces in there, and they're either going to be more American forces, or they're going to be more international forces," Biden said.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Biden in drawing hope from a published report Sunday saying that the Bush administration is so disappointed with Iraq's Governing Council that it is seriously considering big changes to its plans to turn power over to Iraqis gradually.

Among options the administration is considering, according to The Washington Post, is a French plan for Iraq to convene a national conference soon that would select a new provisional Iraqi government that would be granted rights of sovereignty. That would mirror the process followed in Afghanistan and could speed a reduction in the U.S. presence in Iraq.

"We've been going it alone much too much in this whole war. We're going to have to give up some of the control that we have in Iraq, and that's what's being considered right now—finally," Levin said on Fox News Sunday.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri—both candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination—echoed Biden and Levin.

"The problem is the president he's completely unwilling to relinquish control. That's the critical thing that's missing from this process," Edwards said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I would turn over the Iraqi civilian authority to the United Nations tomorrow. The second thing I would do is I would make this a NATO security force instead of just an American security force," Edwards said.

Gephardt agreed almost word for word on CNN.

"The mistake that's being made here is that he's (Bush) not gotten us the help that we need fro other countries. He should have gotten the NATO forces in there to provide security with us a long time ago. He should turn over the civil reconstruction of Iraq to the United Nations," Gephardt said.


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