U.S. Mulls Iraq Backup, Bucks

A member of the British Army patrols in Ali al Gharbi, Iraq in this June 25, 2003 file photo. One British soldier was killed and a second injured when their convoy was caught between two crowds and fired on with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades in the town of Ali as-Sharqi in southern Iraq Thursday, Aug. 28, 2003. (AP Photo/Royal Air Force, Sgt. Dave Collin)
The U.S. administration is now open to the possibility of establishing a U.N.-endorsed multinational force in Iraq if it is headed by an American commander, a top State Department official says.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage acknowledged that the idea is one of many being weighed by the administration as it attempts to deal with continuing violence in that country almost four months after President Bush declared an end to major combat operations.

Officials say the Bush administration may ask Congress next month for a few billion more dollars for Iraq reconstruction — only a few weeks after the Pentagon said extra money would not be needed at least until the new budget year begins in October.

Earlier this week, top civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer said it would take "several tens of billions" of dollars to reconstruct the country, in addition to the $4 billion monthly cost of military operations.

In other developments:

  • A British soldier was killed and a second injured in a crossfire between two crowds in southern Iraq.
  • The Los Angeles Times reports, U.S. and allied intelligence agencies are investigating the possibility that they were duped by Iraqi defectors spreading disinformation about Iraq's alleged weapons.
  • The U.S. team hunting weapons in Iraq plans to report next month that Saddam dispersed weapons material around the country to make them hard to detect and planned to reassemble his weapons programs once inspectors left, reports the Boston Globe.
  • The Globe also reports drug trafficking has increased in Iraq.
  • Prime Minister Tony Blair told an inquiry into a weapons expert's suicide that a BBC report that his office had exaggerated estimations of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was not true. He also denied responsibility for identifying the expert, David Kelly
  • An Iraqi Kurdish faction and an ethnic Turkish group in northern Iraq have signed an agreement aimed at preventing ethnic violence after clashes left 11 people dead last week, an Iraqi Kurdish official said Thursday.
  • The price of the contract for Bechtel to rebuild Iraq is growing. The Wall Street Journal reports escalating costs and continued instability has U.S. officials in Baghdad boosting the value of the deal by $350 million dollars, or more than 50 percent. The New York Times, meanwhile says payments to Haliburton — Vice President Dick Cheney's former firm — have already reached $1.7 billion, outstripping earlier estimates.
  • The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq says there is no need for more U.S. troops in the country. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez blames continuing violence on insufficient intelligence and lack of cooperation from the Iraqi people. He says what he really needs is better intelligence for soldiers to act on.

    The British soldiers were returning from a raid when about 30 people blocked their route in the town of Ali as-Sharqi on Wednesday night, British Lt. Cmdr. Richard Walters said.

    The soldiers moved around that crowd, only to be stopped by a second group of people blocking the road near Fort Jennings, he said.

    The soldiers got down from their vehicles and fired two warning shots to disperse the crowds when the Iraqis attacked, killing one soldier and wounding the second in the hand, he said.

    The British arrested 10 people and withdrew to their base at al-Amarah, 75 miles north of Basra with protection from helicopters and additional rapid reaction troops called to the scene, he said.

    The latest death brings the British toll in the war to 49, with 11 of them killed since May 1 when Mr. Bush declared an end to major fighting.

    The violence has hit Iraqis as well, with frequent carjackings and robberies. Gunfire and explosions are commonplace in Baghdad.

    Two Iraqi policemen and three civilians were killed in a shootout with criminals early Wednesday in central Baghdad's Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves Square, a police official at that scene told Associated Press Television News.

    U.S. lawmakers visiting Baghdad on Wednesday called for more Iraqi forces to be trained to relieve American troops and for an increase in intelligence gathering to stem guerrilla attacks on coalition forces.

    Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who led the 11-member House delegation on a five-day visit, said "extremists from other countries coming across the border," also pose a threat to coalition forces.

    He said while the majority of Iraqi people "are happy that we are here…there are some elements of the old regime that have gone underground, that are taking potshots here and there and still putting our soldiers in harm's way."

    Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to New York last week to lobby for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would reinforce U.N. support for the deployment of additional foreign forces in Iraq.

    But initial soundings by administration officials suggested minimal support for that approach, taking into account continuing resentment among many Security Council members about the U.S. decision in March to go to war in Iraq without U.N. endorsement.

    On Monday, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said, "We are nowhere near a resolution on Iraq."

    Since then, the administration has been trying out other ideas that would address U.S. concerns about continuing instability in Iraq without yielding to American insistence on retaining command over international forces in Iraq.
    French officials have said a genuinely international approach to Iraq with a sharing of authority would be the best way to bring stability to Iraq and enable the country to move forward.

    The proposal outlined by Armitage would not entail the deployment of U.N. forces to Iraq but would simply provide the U.N. endorsement for the deployment of a multinational force.