The United States plans to set up an international military force in three regions of Iraq, with Poland and Britain controlling two zones and U.S. forces the third, a senior Bush administration official says.
Six European countries have agreed to provide troops for the international stabilization force, the official told The Associated Press on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity. They are Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Denmark, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, the official said. Representatives of those countries will meet with British officials May 7 and Polish officials May 22 to determine what forces each country will contribute and whether they will be put under British or Polish command.
The U.S. part of the stability force apparently will be comprised of American troops only. While that portion is likely to consist of a division - about 20,000 - the troop strength of the other two sectors has yet to be determined, the official said.
Separately came word that the U.S. Army is about to send its most experienced peacekeeping unit to Iraq. Over the next two weeks, the 1st Armored Division - based in Wiesbaden, Germany - will start arriving in Iraq to take up duties as a "stabilizing force," said its commanding officer Maj. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez. It was not clear where they would fit into the bigger picture reportedly being envisioned.
The New York Times reports in its Saturday editions that the administration is planning to withdraw most United States combat forces from Iraq over the next several months and wants to shrink the American military presence to less than two divisions by the fall, down from the current total of more than five.
The United States and Britain also are preparing a Security Council resolution that limits the United Nations to a role in humanitarian relief in Iraq but not peacekeeping, the official said to the AP.
In other developments:
The draft resolution being put together by the U.S. and Britain would limit the U.N. role to helping with refugees and displaced people, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, the official said. The United States and Britain agree on all but a few of the fine details of the resolution, the official said, though there is no timetable on when it would be introduced.
U.N. officials are already in Iraq providing humanitarian relief. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this week that the body has no interest in policing a postwar Iraq, although it could contribute to the political resuscitation of the country.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld discussed the resolution with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon on Friday as he ended a tour of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf region.
The three-zone international stabilization force would be under the U.S. war commander, Gen. Tommy Franks.
At least initially, the coalition stability forces will augment rather than replace the 135,000 American troops inside Iraq, the official said. The stability forces will focus on providing security and humanitarian relief while other U.S. troops focus on rooting out remaining forces of the former Saddam Hussein government and other armed elements in Iraq.
The more troops other countries contribute to the stability effort, the fewer U.S. troops will be needed inside Iraq, Rumsfeld said.
Planning for both the U.N. resolution and the international security force left out France, Germany and Russia, three powers that vehemently opposed the war in Iraq.
Some Arab countries also want to play a role in the stability operation in Iraq but are reluctant to send troops because of political, religious and ethnic considerations, the official said. Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council have offered to donate money for the effort.
The 16,500-member 1st Armored Division has assisted in many international peacekeeping operations since 1991, when it first deployed to the Middle East to help expel the invading Iraqi army from Kuwait.
It also was the lead unit of the 60,000-strong NATO force that entered Bosnia in 1996 after warring Serbs, Croats and Muslims signed a peace agreement in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1999, the 1st Armored led the U.S. contingent deployed to Kosovo to safeguard the U.N. Security Council resolution that brought peace to Serbia's southern province.
The troops' experience in the Balkans may have prepared them for some aspects of postwar Iraq, where ethnic and sectarian tension and sporadic armed resistance are keeping the situation volatile, Sanchez said.
Coalition forces still could encounter guerrilla resistance from militias that emerged after the breakdown of government authority, Sanchez and experts said.