Allies pledge more help

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said several countries agreed to help train Iraqi forces.
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a handful of NATO allies pledged Wednesday to contribute more resources for the crucial effort to train Iraqi security forces, but the scope and potential impact of any new contributions remained unclear as officials traveling with Rice provided scant details.
Rice's comments came just three weeks after congressional Democrats and Republicans alike grilled her during confirmation hearings over what they believe have often been inflated or over-optimistic claims from the Bush administration on crucial efforts to train Iraqi forces.
The new American secretary of state, on a tour of Europe aimed at easing the trans-Atlantic rift over the Iraq war, made the announcement at NATO headquarters here after what she called "the best discussion of Iraq that we have had as an alliance since the Saddam Hussein regime fell."
Of the new pledges, Rice said "a number of countries" had "immediately agreed to contribute, and a number of others said that they would intend to contribute" to the effort.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who is meeting his NATO military counterparts in Nice, France, regarding the same issue, made similar comments Wednesday.
Encouraging help
In Washington, meanwhile, President Bush asked Congress to set up a $400 million fund to reward nations that have joined the U.S.-led efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported.
The White House announced the fund, dubbed the "solidarity initiative," after Bush's meeting Wednesday with Aleksander Kwasniewski, the president of Poland, a nation that is to receive one-fourth of the money. The $400 million request is part of the $80 billion supplemental war funding request Bush will send to Congress next week.
On the ground in Iraq, one of the greatest needs within the fledgling and sometimes-unreliable security forces is high-quality leadership. U.S. officials believe that if this void is filled, it could substantially improve Iraq's own ability to fight the insurgency.
A special NATO training effort, which has faced resistance from at least six nations inside the 26-member military alliance, is aimed at filling that void by focusing solely on Iraqi officers.

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