A UN-approved multinational force could help provide the one thing Iraq most needs now: a concrete sense of public authority.
At issue is both more boots on the ground and eyes in the neighborhood. More troops would mean more vigilance, more presence, more deterrence of Baghdad's roving gangs. But deployment is not yet at hand. Key nations such as France continue to object to full American control of such an operation.
A UN force would also present terrorists and old regime hold-outs with more targets - personnel not yet schooled in Iraq's dangers and internal strife. "To put an experienced peacekeeper in there, like a Finn, and ask him to mediate between Sunnis and Shia [Muslims] - he's not going to understand initially what they're fighting about," says retired Brig. Gen. John Reppert. "It would be like putting a Buddhist in Northern Ireland."
In the halls and offices of UN headquarters in New York, the US has already begun pressing a case for greater UN involvement in Iraq. A draft Security Council resolution would establish a multinational occupation force under US military command. It also invites the Iraqi Governing Council to submit a timetable for elections to Security Council members, pursuant to a possible UN role overseeing this electoral process.
US officials apparently don't envision drawn-out negotiations over their proposal. The UN General Assembly is opening in a few weeks, and Washington probably wants the issue settled before President Bush addresses Assembly members.
Initial reaction to the administration's proposal was mixed. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said he wouldn't rule out sending troops for such a mission, for instance. Russian participation would hinge on the exact wording of the final Security Council resolution, and whether it was passed unanimously, Mr. Ivanov told the Interfax news agency.
Meanwhile, British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon ordered a review of UK troops levels in Iraq, amid reports that some government officials were pressing for the deployment of up to 5,000 more personnel.
In Iraq the top US military commander in the country said that he would welcome more international troops - and that he could find plenty of jobs for them to do.
The current US-led coalition would welcome help in patrolling Iraq's porous borders and its internal highway system, said US Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, coalition commander, at a news conference Thursday. International troops could help police the many fault lines in Iraqi society, such as Sunni-Shiite tension. "If coalition forces were to be offered we would gladly accept them," said General Sanchez.
About 150,000 US troops are currently in Iraq. Personnel from other nations number about 20,000 - most of them British. Just this week a Polish-led multinational contingent of 9,000 took command of much of Iraq's thinly populated south-central region.
At the top of the list of nations capable of joining this effort are France, Germany, and Russia, according to Patrick Garrett, a military analyst at Globalsecurity.org.
All three have large, skilled militaries. While Russian commanders may be preoccupied with continued fighting in Chechnya, their French and German counterparts may be more deployable.
"They don't have large force presences elsewhere - although Germany does have forces in Afghanistan," says Mr. Garrett.
But a German government official notes that his country also has peacekeepers active in the Balkans. While not ruling out German participation in Iraq, this official says that it would probably be minimal. "I don't see that we would be able to send troops on the order of thousands," says this official.
India is another possible source of help. The Indian Army numbers some 1 million personnel, grouped in 34 divisions - though a large chunk of this strength is facing off against Pakistan over disputed Kashmir. For months, the US has been pressing the Indian government to send a large military contingent. But the Indians have been reluctant to move without a UN mandate. India's soldiers are "very well trained, well organized, and exceedingly well equipped, and they have experience with operating in this sort of an environment," says Garrett.
Muslim peacekeepers might be particularly welcome, given the frictions inherent in US control of heavily Muslim Iraq. Turkey, with some 514,000 troops, is a NATO member and used to operating with US commanders, though US-Turkish relations were bruised by Ankara's refusal to allow deployment of US ground units from its soil. Pakistan is the other obvious Muslim candidate to provide more help.
Finally, there are the Scandanavian countries. While their numbers of personnel under arms are small - Finland's Army is barely the size of two US divisions - they are among the most skilled at the difficult peacekeeping arts. "The huge advantage they have is everyone everywhere believes them to be neutral," says Mr. Reppert, dean of the George Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany.
Country Active Reserves
Canada 52,300 35,400
Denmark 22,700 64,900
Egypt 443,000 254,000
Finland 31,850 about 485,000
France 260,400 100,000
Germany 296,000 390,300
India 1,298,000 535,000
Iran 520,000 350,000
Italy 216,800 65,200
Jordan 100,240 35,000
Netherlands 49,580 32,200
Norway 26,600 219,000
Pakistan 620,000 513,000
Poland 163,000 324,000
Russia 988,100 20,000,000
Saudi Arabia 200,000
Spain 177,950 328,500
Syria 319,000 354,000
Turkey 514,850 378,700
UK 210,450 256,750
Ukraine 302,300 about 1,000,000
Source: "The Military Balance" by the International Institute for Strategic Studies