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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The United States wants to quickly add former Iraqi soldiers to the new Iraqi security forces, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.
Rumsfeld arrived here to see firsthand the conditions and to talk to military and civilian leaders of the U.S.-led occupation.
Shortly after landing at Baghdad International Airport, Rumsfeld shook hands with troops and briefly visited wounded soldiers in a hospital tent. Rumsfeld shook the hand of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Meyerhoff, who was wounded in the right leg in an ambush on a convoy in Baghdad.
Rumsfeld planned to meet later Thursday with L. Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator in Iraq.
Rumsfeld said military commanders do not see the need for more U.S. troops in Iraq, but said that more Iraqis need to be trained to help provide security.
U.S. officials are considering allowing enlisted soldiers and junior officers from the former Iraqi military to join the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces, the defense secretary said.
"This is their country. They are going to have to provide security," he had said earlier aboard an Air Force plane that stopped for a refueling stop in Ireland en route to the Middle East.
Rumsfeld gave few details on what conditions the United States would want for an increased U.N. role in Iraq that is being pursued by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
More important than an expanded international peacekeeping force are the 50,000 to 60,000 Iraqis currently "involved in security activities," he told reporters.
Rumsfeld estimated that other countries could provide "maybe another division" in Iraq, or about 10,000 troops. There are now about 140,000 U.S. troops and about an additional 22,000 from 29 other countries in Iraq.
U.S. generals believe there is no need for more U.S. troops in Iraq, Rumsfeld said, despite a series of car bombings in the past month that have killed a key Shiite Muslim cleric and the top U.N. envoy. Some members of Congress have called for more troops to be sent to Iraq to improve security in a country where American troops still face almost daily attacks.
Training and equipping Iraqi security forces is better than sending more American troops because the Iraqis are not an occupying force, Rumsfeld said.
"Foreign troops are not normal. They're temporary," he said. "Iraqi forces are normal. They are what ought to be."
He said it is an open question as to how a U.N. resolution could be agreed upon to encourage more countries to send troops. He said Powell's negotiations with Security Council members over the wording of a resolution were "still in the second or third inning."
Some countries such as India have said they would not send troops to Iraq without a clear U.N. authorization.
Rumsfeld again rejected the idea of a U.N. military or peacekeeping command in Iraq. "That's not in the cards," he said.
But the defense secretary said countries that provide troops and money in Iraq would have a voice in the administration of both civil and military operations.
"To the extent countries step up with troops and support and money, they have a seat at the table," Rumsfeld said. "They have the opportunity to work with us and the Iraqis."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)