Two divisions of international troops will begin moving into Iraq by the end of this month to help relieve the nearly 150,000 American troops now working to stabilize the country, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the international troops — up to 20,000 of them — are “gearing up” to go to Iraq.
One division will be led by the United Kingdom and the other by Poland, and there is a potential for a third division, he said.
“The flow would start in probably July, August and probably finish out in September,” Gen. Myers told reporters.
Gen. Myers said “five or six countries or more” will add troops to the divisions. A third international peacekeeping division could be led by India, defense officials said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the foreign troops would reduce the burden on the U.S. military.
“The more that are there, the fewer of U.S. troops we have to have,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “So we won’t know precisely what [Central Command is] going to want … whether they like what they have or they want fewer or more.
“But whatever it is, we will fill in with as many international forces as we can, and we will then be able to rotate some of our forces out and give them a rest.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress last month that Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Denmark, Ukraine and Hungary have said they would take part in an international force in Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld, who met reporters with Gen. Myers yesterday, said 70 nations were asked to contribute forces to stabilization forces. He said four nations are already involved inside Iraq and another six have agreed to join.
Negotiations and discussions are taking place with 14 other nations that might participate and another 15 to 20 nations have said they are willing to discuss sending forces, Mr. Rumsfeld said.
“We have been working for weeks to bring in additional countries’ forces into Iraq,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Almost 150,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, along with slightly more than 12,000 British troops.
Asked about plans by the Central Command to reduce or augment forces in Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld said the issue of troop levels is being reviewed by the new commander, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid.
Troop reductions or additions also will be based on assessments by L. Paul Bremer, the current U.S. administrator in Iraq, and on the needs of Army Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, head of the intelligence search team looking for Iraq’s hidden arms, Mr. Rumsfeld said.
“We don’t have anything pending that has not been deployed and provided,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Asked about cutting or adding troops, Gen. Myers said: “I’m going to wait until Central Command does their analysis and gets back to us, I think, before we answer that in any definitive way.”
Rotating troops out of Iraq and replacing them with fresh forces also is part of the review, Gen. Myers said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he does not view the ongoing, low-level conflict in Iraq as either a guerrilla war or an endless “quagmire,” like Vietnam.
Attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq are more like terrorist attacks being carried out by criminals, foreign terrorists and officials from the ousted government of Saddam Hussein, he said.
“There are so many cartoons where people, press people, are saying, ‘Is it Vietnam yet?’ hoping it is and wondering if it is. And it isn’t. It’s a different time. It’s a different era. It’s a different place,” he said.
Attacks against troops since the end of major military operations in May have killed 25 troops by hostile fire. Another 40 solders have died in accidents and nonhostile incidents.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the remnants of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party regime and Fedayeen death squads have become a kind of “terrorist network” in the country.
“We are dealing with those remnants in a forceful fashion. … Those battles will go on for some time,” he said.
U.S. forces in Iraq launched a major sweep Sunday, arresting suspected terrorists and others who are believed to be behind recent attacks.
“No one raid or five raids is going to deal with the entire problem,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “The problem is going to be dealt with over time, as the Iraqis assume more and more responsibility for their own country.”
The defense secretary identified five types of fighters behind the recent attacks. They include former Saddam regime officials; thousands of Iraqi criminals who were released from prisons before the war; ordinary looters; foreign terrorists who infiltrated Iraq; and fighters “influenced by Iran.”
All five groups operate in slightly different ways in opposing U.S. troops, and thus the current conflict is unlike a guerrilla war or organized resistance movement, he said.
“It makes it like five different things going on that are functioning much more like terrorists,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Mr. Rumsfeld compared post-Saddam Iraq to the years after the end of the Revolutionary War, when the newly formed United States went through a period of “chaos and confusion,” including protests by demobilized soldiers that forced Congress to temporarily move out of Washington.
“It took eight years before the Founders finally adopted our Constitution and inaugurated our first president,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “Were we in a quagmire for eight years? I would think not. We were in a process … evolving from a monarchy into a democracy.”
Mr. Rumsfeld said U.S. forces hope to locate Saddam and his two sons Uday and Qusay, noting that the uncertainty on their fate is “unhelpful” for two reasons.
“Number one, there are some who hope that they might come back, because they were privileged during the period they were there; they were part of the Ba’athist hierarchy,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
“There are also those who are fearful that he’ll come back or they’ll come back. They’re not going to come back, that’s for sure. They may be alive, they may be dead. We may find them sooner or later. But the absence of closure has the effect I’ve described, which is unhelpful.”