Rescuing the US in Iraq

As battles for Fallujah and Najaf show, the US military needs all the help it can get in Iraq. Firepower alone isn't sufficient to extract deadly militants from innocent civilians.

American soldiers also need Iraqi armed forces by their side, Islamic sheikhs and other leaders to negotiate, and - if such armed standoffs recur in the months ahead - the cover of United Nations legitimacy to help deflate anti-US feelings among Iraqis.

In coming days, tough talks will take place in the UN Security Council to write a new resolution for Iraq that will define the boundaries of authority among the UN, the US, and a proposed Iraqi caretaker government. Such a resolution should last until an elected government is set up early next year.

The US faces a delicate balance in these negotiations.

If the UN and a temporary Iraqi regime are given too much authority, they might dictate when and where US soldiers can act, something American commanders would loathe.

Give them too little authority and the US would continue to be seen as an occupier, further inciting attacks and scaring off more nations from offering troops to help relieve the overstretched American forces and their current coalition partners.

The resolution's final language may be fuzzy on this point. "These are the kinds of questions that I think our diplomacy is going to have to deal with," said the US nominee for ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.

But the US needs to ask this question of France, Germany, and other military-able nations that opposed the war: Under what type of UN resolution would you be willing to send sufficient troops to really help the US?

The answer will determine how many years the US must stay in Iraq, and how many more casualties it will need to endure until Iraq is stable.

Removing the US shadow over Iraq is everyone's business now. The US has handed over the task of forming an Iraqi government. Now, how much of Iraq's security can it hand over?

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