Fri, Sep 05, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Rumsfeld visits Baghdad after US call for more help


US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew into Baghdad yesterday for a closer look at developments in Iraq as Washington tried to get more nations to contribute troops and cash for peacekeeping in Iraq.

Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters on his plane, said more American forces were not needed, but called for more Iraqi and international involvement in security.

"I haven't been back into Iraq or Afghanistan I guess since last ... April or May and it seemed to me that it was important to have an opportunity to get a first hand sense of how things are going," Rumsfeld said.

The Pentagon had not announced his trip to Iraq in advance for security reasons.

In a reminder of the daily dangers in Iraq, US troops fought Iraqi guerrillas who fired mortars near their base, then raided homes to detain suspected bomb-makers in a night of drama around former president Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Iraqis then fired rocket-propelled grenades at a patrol.

There were no American casualties, but US commanders said at least one Iraqi may have died in the fighting witnessed by reporters accompanying the troops.

In another overnight incident near Baquba, 50km northeast of Baghdad, US troops ambushed and killed three Iraqi guerrillas laying explosive devices on a roadside, the US military said.

In New York, the US faced a sceptical UN Security Council on a resolution crafted to induce more nations to send troops and money to support the US-led occupation.

Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had urged his government to send an extra 5,000 soldiers or risk "strategic failure."

While the US has made some concessions, diplomats said it faced intense negotiations as France and other Security Council members were wary of rubber-stamping the US occupation.

The resolution wants UN endorsement of the US-selected Iraqi Governing Council as an interim government.

In Dresden, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he and French President Jacques Chirac had agreed the UN must play a leading role in the political process in post-war Iraq.

Unremitting assaults on US-led troops and a spate of recent bomb attacks are likely to be on Rumsfeld's agenda when he meets senior military leaders in the Gulf region.

Some 20,000 to 22,000 non-US soldiers are deployed in Iraq and Rumsfeld said he would like that number to go up by another division -- about 15,000 soldiers. He also said efforts should be made to bolster the size of the Iraqi security forces.

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said the involvement of more nations would send a message to the Iraqi people that the international community was committed to stabilizing their country.

He told a news conference in Baghdad he had enough troops to perform the task force's current mission but more soldiers would help to deal with future challenges.

He cited sealing borders more effectively, dealing with an internal conflict or a greater threat from foreign Muslim militants as challenges that would require more soldiers.

Sixty-seven US and 11 British soldiers have been killed by hostile fire in Iraq since US President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.

The proposed UN resolution marked a policy reversal for the Bush administration, which had resisted U.N. involvement after the Council's refusal to approve the war that toppled Saddam. France, Russia, China and Germany were among nations on the Security Council which opposed the war.

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