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Middle East

U.S. ready to seek help in Iraq

| Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is preparing to ask the United Nations to transform the U.S.-led force in Iraq to a multinational force and to play a leading role in forming an Iraqi government.

President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell met on the issue Tuesday and agreed to move forward, a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.

The Bush administration will begin talking about a new U.N. resolution in coming days with key members of the Security Council whose support is critical -- close ally Britain as well as France and Russia, which opposed the U.S.-led war and have been seeking a greater U.N. role.

The United States hopes that expanding the U.N. role in postwar Iraq will attract badly needed troop contributions from additional countries to help stabilize Iraq and more money to help rebuild the country.

In Iraq yesterday, terrorist violence continued as a car bomb exploded outside the national police headquarters in Baghdad, killing one officer and wounding more than a dozen, authorities and hospital officials said.

A few hours later, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraq Governing Council -- the brother of the cleric who was killed in Friday's much larger bombing in Najaf -- angrily called for an end to the American-led occupation.

"The occupation force is primarily responsible for the pure blood that was spilled in holy Najaf," Abdel-Aziz al Hakim told hundreds of thousands of people who had gathered at the funeral for his brother, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al Hakim. The cleric died Friday along with as many as 120 others when a bomb exploded outside one of Islam's most revered Shiite mosques.

"Iraq must not remain occupied and the occupation must leave so that we can build Iraq as God wants us to do," Hakim said in Najaf.

The incidents underscored the growing challenge to the U.S.-led occupation of the country, where security is deteriorating as more of the population, including some Shiite Muslims who initially welcomed Saddam Hussein's defeat, turns against the United States.

Also yesterday, the American-led coalition said two U.S. soldiers had been killed and a third wounded when a bomb exploded Monday near their convoy in southern Iraq. A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter also crashed south of Baghdad, killing one American soldier and injuring another. The crash wasn't caused by hostile fire, military spokesmen said.

Coalition officials say it's unfair to blame U.S. forces for the mosque bombing since they weren't guarding the building, because they'd been asked to stay away out of respect for Shiite sensitivities.

Fair or not, Hakim's comments suggested that moderate Shiite Muslims who have been working with the American-backed provisional government are turning against it. Shiites make up 60 percent of the country, and so far most of them haven't been actively hostile to the provisional government.

The bombing near the heavily guarded police headquarters was also troubling, because it underscored that anti-coalition fighters are increasingly resorting to terrorism against those who cooperate with the coalition.

Iraqi police were investigating how the pickup truck containing the bomb got past a police checkpoint and into an impound lot next to the headquarters, said a U.S. adviser who asked not to be named. Iraqi police said it wasn't a suicide attack, and that the bomb might have been detonated by remote control.

"How it got there is suspect," the adviser said. "All cars that go in there should be checked."

Iraqi police officials said Baghdad police chief Hassan Ali, whose office was damaged, appeared to have been the target of the attack. Ali wasn't in the building at the time, police said.

Five months after the United States was forced to drop a U.N. resolution seeking authority to attack Iraq, administration officials say they do not want a repeat of that brawl. They say they expect the United States to engage in quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations on the text of the resolution, to ensure it would be agreeable to the veto-wielding permanent members and the rest of the Security Council, and to project a unanimous, internationally backed stand on what happens next on Iraq.

According to the senior official, the Bush administration plans to begin talking to other nations within days about the new Security Council resolution.

Diplomats say placing reconstruction under U.N. auspices will make it easier to garner contributions from nations that opposed the war, notably France and Germany. Belgium, too, said last week that it may be willing to donate money -- if the United Nations was "playing a central role" in reconstruction.

The United States also has struggled to persuade other countries to contribute troops without a new U.N. mandate.

But the administration is optimistic it can attract peacekeeping troops for Iraq from at least India, Pakistan and Turkey by placing the operation under the U.N. flag. Tentative drafts of a U.N. Security Council resolution circulated Friday among administration officials, but the State Department had yet to attract a consensus among them for expanding the U.N. role in Iraq.

Yesterday evening, officials said they had reached agreement between American government agencies on how to proceed.

France, Russia and several other countries said they were not willing to go along unless the United States went beyond simply putting the operation under U.N. sponsorship. Both France and Russia, along with United States, Britain and China, have veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

Last week, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage said Washington was considering the creation of a multinational force under U.N. leadership -- but with an American commander -- in an attempt to persuade reluctant nations to send troops to boost security in Iraq.

But some in the administration consider the United Nations incapable of commanding or managing combat operations in Iraq and might even send in incompetent troops to provide a multinational look.

The administration would not consider putting the operation under U.N. control, said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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