By Luke Baker
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Secretary of State Colin Powell urged NATO to take a more prominent role in postwar Iraq on Thursday, days after a dozen people allied to the United States were killed in attacks throughout the country.
Powell's call for help came as the bodies of two Japanese diplomats killed last weekend while on their way to a reconstruction conference in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit arrived in Japan for burial.
In an address to NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Powell called on the 19-nation alliance, some of whose members opposed the war to overthrow Saddam, to take a bigger role in Iraq, where it currently provides only indirect support.
"The United States welcomes a greater NATO role in Iraq's stabilization," Powell said, according to the text of prepared remarks seen by Reuters.
After meeting the foreign ministers, Powell said none of them had opposed a greater NATO role and said he did not see a need for another U.N. resolution on Iraq at this point.
It was the first time since the war, which threw NATO into one of the deepest crises in its 54-year history, that Washington had pressed the alliance for assistance in Iraq.
As well as the Japanese diplomats, seven Spanish intelligence agents, two South Korean contractors and a Colombian sub-contractor were killed in a bloody series of separate insurgent attacks last weekend.
Despite the deaths, Japan is expected to approve a plan next week that will allow for the dispatch of some 1,000 military personnel to help rebuild the oil-rich country, Japan's media reported on Thursday.
While polls show voters are opposed, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is resolute on the deployment, which would be Japan's largest overseas military mission since World War II. South Korea has said it will also not delay in sending more troops to help U.S. forces once parliament approves the plan.
IRAQ POLICE, U.S. FORCES HIT
In the latest in a series of strikes against Iraqi security forces, rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a police station in the town of Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad on Thursday. Six people were wounded as officers gathered to receive their monthly salaries.
Late last month, 17 policemen were killed in twin bomb blasts north of Baghdad as insurgents stepped up actions against security forces seen to be cooperating with the U.S. coalition.
Also on Thursday, a U.S. armored personnel carrier erupted in flames after hitting a roadside mine in Baghdad, although it was not immediately clear if it was old ordnance or recently placed. U.S. forces said no one was hurt.
Clear signs are emerging that the anti-U.S. insurgency, in which 189 American soldiers have been killed in action since Washington declared major combat over on May 1, is gaining in intensity and coordination, not just in Sunni minority areas.
Funding for the insurgency may be coming from some of the $1 billion the deposed president is believed to have withdrawn from Iraq's central bank the day before the war was launched in March, ABC News reported.
To try to combat the guerrillas more effectively, the United States has backed the formation of several militias, to include Kurdish "peshmerga" fighters and members of the Badr corps, an exiled Shi'ite force built up in opposition to Saddam.
As well as using rockets, bombs and suicide attacks to kill U.S. and coalition soldiers, insurgents have also struck at Iraq's energy infrastructure to try to disrupt efforts to rebuild the country and prevent its oil resources being tapped.
The main oil export pipeline to Turkey has been repeatedly blown up and torched in recent months, yet despite those disruptions Iraq's oil minister said on Thursday exports should return to prewar levels early next year.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of OPEC members in Vienna, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum said Baghdad was aiming for crude output of 2.8 million barrels per day by the end of the first quarter of next year, up from the current 2.1 million barrels per day.