Allies Change Minds About Troops for Iraq

In a blow to U.S. hopes for more support in rebuilding Iraq, Japan on Thursday delayed sending troops and other American allies altered plans after a surge in anti-coalition violence.

South Korea decided to cap its possible troop deployment at 3,000, rebuffing Washington's request for a bigger force. Denmark said Thursday it would not, for now, send more soldiers. And nations such as France that opposed the war that ousted Saddam Hussein again declared that the U.S.-led coalition's postwar plan must be changed.

The reassessments came a day after a suicide truck bombing at a headquarters for Italian forces in southern Iraq killed at least 31 people — the latest in a series of attacks aimed at foreigners helping the United States rebuild Iraq.

Many countries and agencies in Iraq, including Spain, the Netherlands, the United Nations and the international Red Cross (search), have been reconsidering their presence since they became targets.

Japan, one of Washington's most steadfast and vocal supporters, had planned to send its first troops to Iraq by the end of 2003. But after Wednesday's attack on the Italian compound, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda (search) backed off, saying the security situation is not yet stable enough.

That means Japan will almost certainly delay deploying personnel, who would have filled non-combat roles, until sometime next year. Attacks like Wednesday's have spurred questions over whether any area can be considered safe, and the political fallout of any Japanese deaths would likely be high for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Speaking in Washington, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice said the Bush administration understood Japan's reconsidering the timing of its troop deployment. She added that out of all nations giving money to Iraq's reconstruction, Japan had pledged the most.

"We're very pleased with what Japan is able to do, and understand that countries have to make their own determinations about when they do what," Rice said.

In announcing South Korea's capping the number of troops it would send, President Roh Moo-hyun's (search) office said he hopes any deployment would "focus on assisting rehabilitation while leaving security to Iraqi police and military."

Others also pledged to stand by the United States but said their plans — as well as the coalition's for postwar Iraq — must be rethought.

The suicide bombing against Italians in Nasiriyah prompted Portugal to send 128 elite police officers originally slated for that city to Basra instead.

Denmark's defense minister decided not to bolster the 410-strong force it already has in Iraq, rejecting a push by two Danish soldiers unions to send 100 more troops.

"It is an extremely dangerous job that our soldiers are doing," Defense Minister Svend Aage Jensby said Thursday, adding that it was still possible at a later time to send more forces. "We are monitoring the events, and should the terror move to the south to our area, we would have to reconsider."

Immediately after the attack, Italy's conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi said his country would not be intimidated and reaffirmed the country's engagement in Iraq. His coalition parties promptly agreed, yet opposition forces said the government should review its Iraq policy.

The opposition urged the government to press its European allies and the United States to speed the transition of power to Iraqis and hand the United Nations a larger role. But it stopped short of calling for a troop pullout.

Other countries were reducing their staff well before Wednesday, already finding the security situation untenable.

Spain is withdrawing much of its diplomatic staff from Iraq after a Spanish navy captain was killed in the truck bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on August 19, and a Spanish sergeant working for Spain's military intelligence was assassinated Baghdad on Oct. 9.

Two other U.S. allies, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, moved their diplomats from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, last month.

Britain, Washington's most steadfast ally, has lost 19 soldiers but Prime Minister Tony Blair has not backed down despite pressure from Britons.

Yet there are indications the United States may be considering a change or speeding up the transfer of power to Iraqis.

The top U.S. administrator in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, met with President Bush in Washington on Wednesday to review new strategies to hasten the transfer of political authority.

"We are in a very intense period as we come up on the Dec. 15 deadline" for Iraq's interim Governing Council to set a timetable for writing a new constitution and holding democratic elections, said Bremer.

Creating a smaller body within the council, perhaps 10 people, with expanded, leading roles, or establishing one person as a leader were among options now considered by the United States, according to a senior administration official in Washington.

The attacks also emboldened countries to declare that they don't think the American postwar policies are working.

"Everyday, it is spiraling in Iraq with American, British, Polish, Spanish, Italian deaths," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told Europe-1 radio Thursday. "How many deaths does it take to understand that it is essential to change the approach?"

De Villepin added that France was prepared to help with the reconstruction of Iraq once sovereignty was awarded to a provisional Iraqi government.

"This is an extended hand that I hold out to our Americans friends, because what is at stake concerns us all. It is the security of the world we are concerned with."