Baghdad, Sept. 4 (Reuters): US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew into Baghdad today for a closer look at developments as Washington struggled to rally more nations to contribute troops and cash for peacekeeping in Iraq.
The US faced scepticism in the UN Security Council over a resolution it has crafted to encourage more nations to send troops and money to support the US-led occupation.
France and Germany rejected the US proposal, saying it did not yield enough responsibility to Iraqis or to the UN.
Moreover, the new Iraqi foreign minister said troops from neighbouring Turkey, a key US ally, would not be welcome.
In remarks that risk reinflaming the diplomatic wrangling that upset transatlantic relations before the war, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the US draft in its current form was not acceptable.
“We are very, very far removed from having a resolution in front of us which we can agree to,” said Chirac, whose country has veto power in the UN Security Council.
“We are ready to examine the proposals but they seem quite far from what appears to us the primary objective, namely the transfer of political responsibility to an Iraqi government as soon as possible,” Chirac said after meeting Schroeder.
Schroeder, speaking in the eastern German city of Dresden, said the proposals showed movement in the US position but did not go far enough. Iraq needed stability and democracy.
“Such a perspective can only develop if the UN takes over responsibility for the political process and if an Iraqi administration is installed,” Schroeder said. The resolution seeks UN endorsement of the US-selected Iraqi governing council as an interim government.
Rumsfeld, on an unannounced visit to Iraq, said neighbouring Syria and Iran were not doing enough to help stop a wave of guerrilla attacks in the last month including four car bombings that have killed 120 people, among them the chief UN envoy.
Rumsfeld will meet military commanders and soldiers and discuss a deteriorating security situation hampering the occupation administration. “We are unhappy about the fact that people come across the Syrian and Iranian border. They know we are unhappy about it,” Rumsfeld said on the flight to Baghdad.
Asked if Syria and Iran were exerting efforts to stop infiltrations by Muslim militants, Rumsfeld said: “It’s intermittent, uneven”. He said more American forces were not needed, but called for more Iraqi and international involvement in security.
In a reminder of the daily dangers in Iraq, US troops fought Iraqi guerrillas who fired mortars near their base, then raided homes to detain suspected bomb-makers in a night of drama around Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. Iraqis then fired rocket-propelled grenades at a patrol.
There were no American casualties, but US commanders said at least one Iraqi may have died in the fighting witnessed by a Reuters crew accompanying the military.
Britain, Washington’s closest ally and a major player in Iraq where it has about 10,000 troops, appeared closer to sending more forces. Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper said foreign secretary Jack Straw had urged his government to send an extra 5,000 soldiers to Iraq or risk “strategic failure”.
Some 20,000 to 22,000 non-US soldiers are deployed in Iraq and Rumsfeld said he would like that number to go up by another division — about 15,000 soldiers.
Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said the involvement of more nations would send a message to the Iraqi people that the international community was committed to stabilising their country.
He told a news conference in Baghdad he had enough troops to perform the task force’s current mission but more soldiers would help to deal with future challenges.
Sixty-seven US and 11 British soldiers have been killed by hostile fire in Iraq since US President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.
The proposed UN resolution marked a policy reversal for the Bush administration, which had resisted UN involvement after the council’s refusal to approve the war that toppled Saddam. France, Russia, China and Germany were among nations on the Security Council which opposed the war.
Radical Iraqi Shia Muslim leader Moqtada al-Sadr said in remarks published today that US-led forces in Iraq must leave, hinting that declaring a jihad (holy war) against them may be a future option.
“Sometimes a lesser devil goes and a greater devil takes over,” Sadr was quoted as saying in Iraq by Kuwait’s al-Seyassah daily. He said conditions under the US military presence were worse than under Saddam.