- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas — The White House yesterday predicted an increase in the number of nations helping in the reconstruction of Iraq, despite Tuesday’s deadly bombing in Baghdad.

“You will see additional countries participating,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters near the president’s ranch here. “The terrorist attack yesterday in Baghdad only reinforced the importance of what we are doing.”

But Mr. McClellan shrugged off suggestions that the United States should allow the United Nations to expand its role in the reconstruction.

Even before Tuesday’s attack on U.N. headquarters, which killed at least 21 victims, Germany and France were pushing for a U.N. mandate to give the world body a greater role in Iraq’s security and reconstruction, which are now controlled by the United States.

“The United Nations has been involved in Iraq,” Mr. McClellan said. “They’ve been providing important humanitarian assistance; they’ve been helping with reconstruction; they’ve been providing food distribution to the Iraqi people.”

Several nations, including Britain, Poland and Germany, are already helping U.S. forces with military functions.

“This is not just the United States; there is a coalition there,” Mr. McClellan said. “There are a lot of countries that are already helping, and we’re continuing to talk with other countries about ways that they can help.”

He added: “The coalition has been expanding, and I’m sure it will continue to expand as we move forward.”

Democrats were not satisfied with such promises. For example, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a presidential candidate, called for Mr. Bush to “internationalize the reconstruction effort in Iraq.”

“Expert after expert has returned from Iraq stating that the window of opportunity is closing faster than anyone expected and that our chance to successfully stabilize and rebuild the country is quickly passing,” he said in a statement yesterday.

“Despite this, the Bush administration refuses to seek a U.N. mandate so that our historic allies and friends can join us in this effort and speed up the reconstruction process,” he added.

Even some Republicans have recently criticized Mr. Bush for announcing May 1 that major combat operations in Iraq were over.

“We may have misled the American people by telling them basically it was over when the hardest part — the imposition of peace and democracy — still lay ahead of us,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, just before Tuesday’s bombing. “We need to tell the American people how tough it’s going to be.”

Yesterday, the White House insisted the public had not been misled.

“No, we’ve been very straightforward about where we are, in terms of the theater in Iraq,” Mr. McClellan said. “The president was very clear that major combat operations were over. He did not say that the fighting was over, by any means. And that fighting continues.”

In fact, the spokesman suggested the continued fighting was evidence that the coalition can become a victim of its own success.

“The more progress we make, the more desperate these terrorists become,” he said.

However, he added that the “view that we should just sit back and do nothing is just totally off base.”

“Iraq is secure in many areas,” Mr. McClellan said. “And there are certain areas where the remnants of the former regime are — and foreign terrorists,” he added. “That’s why we’re on the offensive going after those remnants and those killers.”

Mr. Bush discussed the Baghdad bombing with British Prime Minister Tony Blair late Tuesday. Early yesterday, he discussed Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

U.S. envoy John Wolf spent yesterday in the Middle East, meeting with Israelis and Palestinians, while Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice worked the phones from Washington.

“Israel has a right to defend itself,” Mr. McClellan said. “But it’s important for all the parties to continue talking about the way forward. And the way forward is dismantling terrorist organizations.”

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