U.S. to help pick up tab for countries aiding in Iraq

By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times

06/23/03: WASHINGTON When the Pentagon proudly announced last week that more and more countries have been signing up to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, one fact drew little attention: U.S. taxpayers will be paying a fair chunk of the bill.

As it has sought to spread the peacekeeping burden, the Bush administration has agreed to help underwrite the participation of such countries as Poland, Ukraine, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. India, which the United States has asked to provide thousands of troops, has been asking for financial help as well.

Western European countries such as Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands will pay the full cost of their participation, diplomats said.

These deals, which by one estimate could cost $250 million over the next year, will enable the United States to relieve some of its overworked troops and give more of an international face to the American-led undertaking.

But they may also draw criticism that the U.S. partners in the reshaping of Iraq are those whose support can be bought the "coalition of the billing," as some wags have put it, playing off the Bush administration's use of the term "coalition of the willing" during the buildup to the Iraq war.

Pentagon officials say it remains unclear what the total tab will be, because they are still trying to work out arrangements with the nearly 50 countries they say have expressed interest. But it is already clear that the bills will substantially add to U.S. troop expenses that, by one congressional estimate, are running $3 billion a month.

At least 20,000 troops from more than a dozen nations are expected to arrive in the next two months to augment a force of about 146,000 troops from the United States and 12,000 from Britain and seven other countries.

In most major peacekeeping missions, the United Nations has taken the lead and covered most of the expenses of countries that contribute troops. But in this case, because the Bush administration did not want to surrender its lead role in Iraq to the United Nations, the United States had little choice but to build and underwrite the peacekeeping coalition itself.

The United States will be helping out with contingents large and small. The Poles, who have become one of the United States' staunchest military allies, have committed 2,300 soldiers and will oversee a division-size force that will patrol a large section of south-central Iraq. But with Poland's government budget under stress and unemployment at about 20 percent, Warsaw asked for assistance.

The United States is also going to pick up most of the tab for 840 doctors, nurses and engineers from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic who are going to Iraq for a year, according to diplomats from Central America.

U.S. financing makes participation politically easier for countries that opposed the war or pushed to give the United Nations a lead role in the aftermath.

Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, came up with the figure of $250 million to fund the estimated 20,000 troops for the next year.

That assumes, he said, that about half the countries would require help and that the United States would have to put up less than half as much money per soldier as the $10,000 to $20,000 it costs to support an American in the field for a month. Many foreign troops are far less expensive than the highly trained, elaborately equipped U.S. forces.

O'Hanlon noted that even when the United Nations finances peacekeeping missions, the U.S. Treasury covers about 25 percent of the cost, through U.N. dues.

Word of these arrangements has emerged at a time of increasing congressional concern about the staffing and financial burdens of the military mission in Iraq.

At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Rep. John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., said that at the present level of U.S. troop commitment, it would cost $54 billion to pay for the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq for a year.

He noted that although allies covered most of the cost of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in this war, allies have agreed to put up only about $3 billion. "Surely we can't sustain the burden of being the world's only superpower, protecting region after region, without some well-developed alliances or allied participation," Spratt said.

Bush declared an end to major combat May 1, though U.S. troops have continued to come under hit-and-run attacks from what Pentagon officials have described as loosely organized guerrilla groups.

The president and other officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have said there is no timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The high ratio of U.S. forces to coalition partners will do little to diminish the reality that the remaking of Iraq is a U.S.-commanded operation, analysts and diplomats contend, and it seems unlikely to deliver the relief expected by U.S. military commanders anxious to shift the peacekeeping burden to other nations.

The structure of the Iraq force is very different from the peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia and Kosovo following wars that attracted broader international support.

After hostilities ended in Bosnia, the security force was about one-third American; in Kosovo, about one-fifth. By contrast, even with an additional 20,000 allied troops, the United States would be providing more than 80 percent of the foreign troops in Iraq.

And one major country capable of sending troops has not been asked. France, which bitterly opposed the U.S. war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, remains on the sidelines. A French official said, "We were never contacted." A White House official said, "They haven't offered."

The Frenchman continued, "There is a commonly recognized perception that we are unwelcome, so there is no point."

Material from The Washington Post and The Associated Press is included in this report.

 Copyright 2003 The Washington Post and The Associated Press 

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