Facing criticism for wanting to run the affairs of post-Saddam Iraq by itself, the US has sought the support of all willing nations in rebuilding the war-torn country but said the UN cannot play a major role in the process.
US diplomats have contacted more than 65 countries in recent weeks to ask for their assistance and have received expression of support from 58 of them, a State Department spokesman said on Thursday.
Secretary of State Colin L Powell, in an interview with Dutch television, asked European countries to contribute peacekeeping forces.
General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the Pentagon has given the State Department a list of urgent needs from other countries, including police officers.
Officials said the administration is also seeking doctors and nurses as well as engineers to help rebuild bridges, roads and buildings in Iraq, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
"We are going to pressure all of our friends and allies to contribute as much as they can," Deputy Defence Secretary Paul D Wolfowitz told the Senate Committee yesterday.
Offers of military and financial help are already coming, Wolfowitz said, predicting a "larger coalition of the willing" for reconstruction than for the war.
He said the United Nations can be a "partner" in reconstruction efforts, particularly in such areas as refugee assistance and humanitarian relief, but "it can't be the managing partner, it can't be in charge."
Wolfowitz, however, added that the world body could play an important role in "helping to mobilize international support" for Iraq and noted that UN endorsement is a requirement for World Bank and IMF aid.
He had some caustic words for France, Germany and Russia, countries, which had most vocally criticised the US for attacking Iraq without UN sanction.
"I hope they will think about the very large debts (that Iraq owes them) that come from money lent to Saddam Hussein to buy weapons and to build instruments of repression.
"I think they ought to consider whether it might not be appropriate to forgive some or all of that debt so that the new Iraqi government isn't burdened with it," Wolfowitz said.
Citing countries such as Kosovo and Bosnia, where UN-led administrations have been in place for years, Wolfowitz argued for a more rapid move to self-government in Iraq.
"We want to see a situation where power and responsibility is transferred as quickly as possible to the Iraqis themselves," Wolfowitz said.
To facilitate this, the US would organise "town meetings" across Iraq that are intended to help identify new Iraqi leaders who could work with U.S. Authorities and begin the process for establishing democratic rule, he said.
The meetings will be hosted by General Tommy Franks, the commander of US forces in Iraq, and will be organised in partnership with Britain, Australia and Poland - the other countries with substantial numbers of ground forces in Iraq.
UN officials will be invited as observers, Wolfowitz said. However, a UN spokesman today said the world body would not be sending a representative because the Security Council has yet to decide the UN's future role in Iraq.
The first meeting, to be held in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah next week, will involve Iraqi exile leaders and 40 Iraqis inside the country identified by the CIA over the past six months as ethnic, religious or civic leaders, US officials said.
But Wolfowitz indicated that despite months of planning, the administration is still largely feeling its way along and has been caught off guard by the speed at which the Saddam Hussein's government collapsed. "It's a process more than a blueprint," he said.
Wolfowitz also offered new specifics about a group set up by the Pentagon - called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance - to supervise humanitarian aid and begin the restoration of such basic needs as water, electrical power and medical care.
Headed by retired Lt Gen Jay Garner, the group was designed to mirror the structure of Iraqi government ministries, Wolfowitz said.
He said some Iraqi ministries - presumably those most closely associated with Hussein's security services - will have to be dismantled. But most, he said, are likely to require substantially less change.
He said Iraqi Americans may be appointed to head some of the ministries early on. "Eventually you would have all of the ministries reporting directly to the Iraqi interim authority and run by Iraqis" with Garner's office playing an increasingly advisory role, Wolfowitz added.