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US makes opening move on forces in Iraq
( 2003-08-29 09:35) (Agencies)

The United States, in seeking to stabilize Iraq, has opened up the possibility of a U.N.-sponsored multinational force, but no one underestimates the difficulties of reaching agreement with the Pentagon as well as with other countries.

U.N. diplomats and other experts said on Thursday they saw the proposal -- articulated this week by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage -- as an opening gambit in negotiations that could have many different resolutions.

"I'm not sure that's the way it will go," said one Western diplomat. "I suspect that what Armitage was suggesting is a step too far for the Pentagon."

There is some "creative thinking going on in Washington (but) the real question is what is achievable in terms of (U.N.) Security Council politics and what is actually useful," the diplomat said.

"The goal is to bring practical results in terms of greater international involvement without undermining the effectiveness and coherence of the (existing) arrangements in Iraq. It's not an easy balance to strike," he said.

Armitage, in an interview made public on Wednesday, said a multinational force under U.N. leadership, but subordinate to U.S. military commanders, was under discussion as the Bush administration seeks to give the United Nations a greater role in the Iraqi occupation in return for expanded international forces there and more support for the U.S.-led peacekeeping mission.


The idea presages a shift in policy for an administration that has insisted until now that all military, economic and political matters in Iraq remain under U.S. control.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan stressed that was only "one of many ideas" under consideration and that while the United States welcomed more international involvement in Iraq, "we won't have artificial deadlines" in coming up with a formal U.N. resolution.

In the face of daily deadly assaults on U.S. troops, violent crime and instability, the administration has been under pressure to expand the 136,000-strong American military presence in Iraq and to encourage more countries to contribute to the 13,000-member international contingent.

That pressure has grown since the truck bombing last week that devastated the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing the chief U.N. envoy and almost two dozen others.

Key countries, including India, France and Germany, have insisted on a new U.N. mandate as a condition for their participation and some demand a role in decision making.

Whether the Americans, especially the Pentagon, would be willing to share control in any meaningful way is unclear.

"It's an interesting approach, but so far it just restricts itself to the security side, and we have always said that security, politics, economics -- they are all interlinked," said Germany's U.N. envoy, Wolfgang Trautwein.

Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, stressed the importance of a fundamental U.N. contribution to Iraq's recovery and the end of U.S. occupation but said commenting on the multinational force idea was premature because it was still being discussed in Washington.

Nora Bensahel, an expert on coalition military operations with the RAND think tank, said Armitage's comments were "quite a departure from previous policy" and opened up possible greater foreign involvement in Iraq "but does not guarantee it."

She said there were precedents for multinational operations that would let the United States lead, citing Somalia in 1993, the 1991 Gulf War and Afghanistan today.

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