Iraq needs more Muslimtroops, US general says

MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: While American lawmakers push to increase the number of soldiers in Iraq, leaders say that allied forces need to be smarter -- not bigger


Sat, Aug 30, 2003 - Page 7

The top American commander for Iraq said on Thursday there was no need for more American troops there, but encouraged Muslim allies like Turkey and Pakistan to send peacekeepers and said the training of a new Iraqi army should be accelerated.

The commander, General John Abizaid, said these steps were among those that could help Iraqis take more responsibility for their country's security sooner, ease the physical burden on American troops and help counter the image of an American-dominated occupation in Iraq.

"You can't underestimate the public perception both within Iraq and within the Arab world about the percentage of the force being so heavily American," the general said in an interview here at his headquarters.

Partly for that reason, Abizaid, who is the head of the US Central Command, rejected calls by a growing number of American lawmakers to increase the number of American troops in Iraq beyond the 140,000 there now.

Rather than increasing the American force, Abizaid said the priority should be to increase the size of the reconstituted Iraqi security services -- now at about 60,000 people -- and to persuade other nations, particularly Muslim countries, to contribute military forces like military police, special operations forces and civil affairs specialists. There are about 23,000 troops from other countries now in Iraq.

The general said that the Iraqi army training and the recruitment of other international peacekeepers were just two issues that would be discussed at a major strategy review by top American military and civilian officials in Baghdad next week.

That session, with the top American civil administrator, Paul Bremer, and his aides, would try to produce a better coordinated long-term plan for rebuilding Iraq and ensuring its security.

He said he was not familiar with the details of an idea being considered by the administration of US President George W. Bush to allow a multinational force in Iraq to operate under the sponsorship of the UN as long as it was commanded by an American.

Countries such as Pakistan and Turkey have demanded a greater security and a political role for the UN before considering sending troops.

Meanwhile, US Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez said Thursday that the coalition does not need more soldiers to fight anti-coalition forces, rather more human intelligence.

"It is clear to me at this point in time given the missions and given the tasks, it is not a matter of additional soldiers.

"That's not going to solve the problem when I don't have the intelligence to act on," Sanchez told reporters.

He dismissed the notion that more soldiers could stabilize a shaky environment around Baghdad, and north and west of the capital, which climaxed in last week's devastating bombing of the UN headquarters.

"If I put more Americans on the ground, those Americans would be doing what my 130,000 troops are doing now," he said.