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Rebuilding Iraq

Military looks for help in its new role as facilitator

By Robert Schlesinger, Globe Staff, 4/18/03

    Rebuilding Iraq


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WASHINGTON -- President Bush and other US officials have steadfastly stopped short of declaring the Iraq war complete, but the military has shifted almost entirely into post-conflict operations focused on helping reestablish local governments, turning power back on, and supplying water and other essentials.

The contours of the occupation force that will keep stability around the country have also started to emerge: US Army forces will take responsibility for Baghdad and northern areas of the country, and US Marines will be responsible for the southern half, along with the British forces that control Basra.

The United States is considering offers of assistance from other countries, with an eye toward bringing international peacekeepers into the country to augment coalition forces.

In the immediate term, however, the primary focus of coalition forces has become turning power and water back on throughout the country. Power flickered back in parts of Baghdad yesterday, the most visible sign yet that coalition forces have shifted their focus from conquest to reconstruction.

Electricity was also recently restored to the northern city of Kirkuk, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, deputy director of operations at US Central Command, said yesterday. In addition, Brooks pointed out, the Baghdad South power plant was to be run on a temporary supply of oil. A Pentagon official later said that power had been restored to more than half of Baghdad.

"Different areas [of Iraq] are in different phases" of reconstruction, the official said. "Down south is a lot more stable and they have more workers coming back. . . . Other cities are still getting to the point where they're still working with the local electrical workers coming back to the plants."

Army Brigadier General Jack Stoltz, talking by phone with reporters from Tallil air base, near Nasiriyah, explained the kind of activities coalition forces are undertaking.

"Now that we've transitioned to the post-hostility phase, we're really getting our medical people out into the local community, and they've been down to Nasiriyah, to the hospital there, almost daily," he said. "We're taking some of the more severely wounded personnel that are down there, bringing them back up here, where we've got our doctors."

Stoltz said the Army plans to set up a series of logistical bases around the country both for sustaining coalition forces but also for distributing humanitarian supplies for the Iraqis. He said that there would be a major base of that type in the south and another in the north of the country.

Similarly, Air Force Colonel John Dobbins said that the Air Force plans two air bases in the country for the immediate future, one in the south -- likely at Tallil -- and another in the north.

"We already have started to bring in some radar equipment that will start to divvy up the airspace again, so humanitarian assistance -- civilian-flown humanitarian assistance -- can be able to fly in here and still have some kind of airspace control procedures in place," Dobbins told reporters in Tallil. "We'll probably be responsible for that for a time, until the Iraqis are able to reconstitute an airspace control system of their own."

Some elements of the Fourth Infantry Division have advanced north of Baghdad, with a task-force of roughly 5,000 to 8,000 soldiers -- many with expertise in civil affairs, engineering, communications, and medicine -- expected to relieve the Marines in the north of the country. The bulk of the division remains in Kuwait, matching personnel up to their equipment, a senior military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The First Armored Division is also expected to deploy to Iraq, and could either reinforce stability operations in the west or relieve the Marines, the official said.

"Right now, it's sort of scattered and mixed," said Lieutenant Colonel Dave Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman. "Whether over time it will be divided up into sectors I don't know."

Some other help may also be on the way.

Several European leaders attending a European Union summit in Athens this week indicated they are prepared to dispatch some troops to Iraq for peacekeeping activities. The suggestions were made by the Netherlands, Spain, and Denmark, all of which supported the US-led military action in Iraq.

"There is a desperate need for stabilization forces in Iraq, here and now," Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark said Wednesday. Bulgarian officials, meanwhile, said that Washington has asked the Eastern European nation -- a recent entrant to NATO -- to provide forces for peacekeeping duties in Iraq. Bulgaria provided air bases for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Washington is hoping to get more assistance in policing Iraq, including from nations that opposed the military campaign. The United Nations could help in this regard. Secretary General Kofi Annan held a series of meetings at the summit to outline the UN's post-war role in Iraq, including peacekeeping responsibilities.

But Rasmussen said more troops are needed immediately to stabilize the country. "We cannot wait for a UN resolution," he said.

Globe correspondent Bryan Bender contributed to this report. Wire service material was also used.

Robert Schlesinger can be reached at

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