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Iraq: U.S. Touts Multinational Force, But Analysts Say Troop Numbers Tell Real Story

The U.S. State Department said yesterday that 30 countries have agreed to take part in a U.S.-led multinational stabilization force for Iraq, even though the mission does not have a specific mandate from the United Nations. But most of those countries are expected to make only token troop contributions, leaving Washington footing much of the bill and considering the possibility of a new UN resolution.

Prague, 29 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Advance teams from some of the 30 countries that have agreed to be part of a U.S.-led security mission in Iraq are beginning to arrive in the Persian Gulf.

In the past week, teams from Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Denmark have been deployed to Iraq. They are joining small groups of soldiers from Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania that already have been in the country for several weeks.

Most of the 9,200 soldiers taking part in a multinational division under Polish command are due to arrive during the coming weeks and be fully deployed by the end of September.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday announced the 30 countries that have confirmed they will participate: "Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, El Salvador, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, U.K. and Ukraine. Their participation in stabilization operations is already confirmed."

But there is skepticism among some military experts and analysts about the number of soldiers that many of these countries can offer. The largest contributor to the multinational division will be Poland with some 2,300 soldiers. Ukraine is posting 1,800 troops to Iraq, while Spain has pledged 1,300.

Bulgaria is sending about 500 troops into Iraq. Hungary has pledged several hundred. Romania and Latvia each are deploying about 150 soldiers, while Slovakia and Lithuania each are sending in 85. Kazakhstan has offered to send 25 soldiers.

Coalition forces now in Iraq include about 150,000 U.S. soldiers and some 11,000 British troops. But according to Ian Kemp, editor of the London-based military affairs publication "Jane's Defence Weekly," many experts estimate that another 100,000 troops are needed to ensure stability across the country.

That has some analysts pointing out that Washington seems more willing to talk about the number of countries participating rather than the actual number of troops pledged. Among them is Dana Priest, a correspondent for "The Washington Post" newspaper who recently authored a book titled "The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America's Military".

"We see [the countries joining the multinational force as] changing the equation right now, at least superficially, in that they have been willing to support the United States-led invasion of Iraq and occupation of Iraq in ways that the core allies of NATO have not, except for the British. So they've stepped into the breech and allowed the United States to say that Europe, or much of Europe, still supports this mission," Priest told RFE/RL.

In fact, key European countries like France and Germany are still refusing to send troops to Iraq without specific authorization from the UN Security Council. Other countries with the ability to contribute a large number of soldiers -- such as India -- also say they want a new UN mandate.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said on 27 July that Ankara needs to closely study a U.S. request to send troops to Iraq. Gul said a mandate from NATO may be sufficient, but many Turkish parliamentarians are demanding a UN mandate.

Boucher admitted yesterday that the issue of a UN mandate for a force in Iraq has divided Washington and some of its traditional allies. "Several countries have raised the issue of [a UN] mandate [for a multinational stabilization force in Iraq]. You have seen it in the public statements of India, I think, most clearly. To some extent, it has been discussed by France and Germany. Maybe a few others," Boucher said. "So we have looked at this. We're continuing to consider it and discuss it. Whether we actually go forward or not in the United Nations will depend on how those discussions proceed."

Another issue is the ability of many contributing countries to finance deployments for a year or more.

"The Washington Post" today quotes a top Pentagon official as saying the United States will pay more than $200 million to cover most of the associated costs -- including the feeding and airlifting of the 9,200 troops in the multinational force. The Polish Defense Ministry independently confirmed that report today.

The U.S. State Department's Boucher also spoke about the issue: "Some of these countries are happy to participate [in stabilization operations in Iraq] but don't have the wherewithal or the resources to do so. And we have looked, indeed, at how we might help them."

That news is welcome in Ukraine, where the armed forces are short of funds and reportedly crippled by corruption. Like many of the Eastern European countries that are joining the U.S.-led multinational division in Iraq, Ukraine is seeking to gain NATO membership. Analysts say Ukraine's offer of 1,800 troops is likely to help its bid.

Political analysts note the administration in Washington has not publicly criticized slow economic reforms, faltering democracy, and corruption in Ukraine since President Leonid Kuchma pledged those 1,800 troops for duty in Iraq.

Still, Priest said it is doubtful whether troops from most contributing countries will be given a major security role in Iraq. "I'm going to be surprised if they are given any bigger role in Iraq because of their capabilities. In truth, I don't think that they can fulfill yet the role that the core NATO countries filled previously. And that's because they don't have the experience of peacekeeping nearly to the extent the Americans or the British or the French or even the Germans have with their Kosovo experience. And the interoperability between the new NATO countries and the old NATO countries or the United States is not at all the level that the core countries had," Priest said.

Polish Army Major Andrzej Wiatrowski disagrees. Wiatrowski has been in Iraq for two weeks, working to set up the multinational division's headquarters near Babylon. He said Polish troops -- including some who served as peacekeepers in Kosovo as early as June 1999 -- are ready for a security mission in Iraq.

"Our forces came to Iraq at the invitation of the coalition, which realized that we are ready for this job. [We are here] to help the people here -- people who, as a result of the policies of Saddam Hussein, are living on the edge of a precipice. In terms of valuing life, we are here to bring humanitarian aid. We are here to guarantee stability and to help the [Iraqi] interim authority," Wiatrowski said.

That is a sentiment shared by Slovak Defense Minister Ivan Simko: "The result of the work of our soldiers will be a more secure living situation in a country that has suffered under the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and also under military operations. I guess that Slovakia is in this way helping to make a safer and better world."

Twenty of the 85 Slovak soldiers being sent to Iraq left yesterday for the Persian Gulf. Simko said it is difficult to say in advance how long they will be needed. But he said he expects it will be more than one year.

(RFE/RL's Bulgarian, Estonian, Kazakh, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, and Slovak services contributed to this report.)