WASHINGTON - Should war come to Iraq, a U.S.-led military force could include everything from a British armored division and a Bulgarian chemical-biological protection unit to a team of Latvian military doctors and a Danish submarine.
U.S. officials have not said publicly how many states make up what President Bush has taken to calling a "coalition of the willing," meaning those nations that would assist in overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
But officials say at least 40 nations - mostly in Europe and the Middle East - are in talks with the United States about providing combat forces and support units, as well as basing rights and refugee assistance.
"America will also be acting with friends and allies," Bush said yesterday in Mayport, Fla., addressing sailors from the USS Enterprise battle group. "Many nations have offered to provide forces or other support to disarm the Iraqi regime. Every nation of the Gulf Cooperation Council has agreed to help defend and protect Kuwait. And now the world's most important multilateral body faces a decision."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this week during a Pentagon appearance with Australian Prime Minister John Howard that the United States has "heard from a large number of countries that would participate in a coalition of the willing." Rumsfeld has told lawmakers that a "nontrivial number of countries" will offer combat troops or support units, while other nations are offering overflight rights and access to bases. Still others, he said, are awaiting a second United Nations resolution before offering help.
"Every contribution is important, from the smallest clinic to the largest troop contribution," said Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Tampa, Fla.-based U.S. Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes Iraq. More than 40 nations have sent military representatives to Tampa.
Some Pentagon and State Department officials say the contributions are more important politically than militarily, providing the Bush administration with a widening international alliance that could help blunt talk of unilateralist U.S. action.
The United States is expected to have more than 200,000 troops in the region by the end of the month, considered more than enough to defeat Iraq's military. More critical to the American cause than troop commitments from allies are less obvious contributions such as basing rights in Turkey or flyover rights in Saudi Arabia - support needed as a springboard for an attack.
"It's not just the bases, it's the infrastructure" that's important, said Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired major general, Vietnam veteran and former commandant of the Army War College. Having modern facilities, such as those that exist in the gulf state of Qatar, means the U.S. military does not have to transport construction material and build up forward bases before launching an attack.
But Scales disagreed with those who view the inclusion of allied support troops as more a matter of politics than necessity. Most troops sent to war serve in support units, providing everything from oil and water to field hospitals and mine-clearing.
"Those who actually do the shooting are a small percentage of the total force," said Scales, who wrote the official Army history of the Persian Gulf war. He recalled a field hospital set up after the war by a unit from the Philippines.
"We needed doctors and nurses at that point more than we needed cluster bombs," he said.
A core group of eight nations, led by Britain and Australia, has pledged either combat forces or support units should the president decide on war, officials said. Some states are not yet willing to publicly declare their intentions, citing operational reasons or concerns about domestic opposition to a war with Iraq.
Meanwhile, there is a more extensive list - an "elaborate matrix" in the words of one official - of what countries will offer under differing circumstances, with or without a second Security Council resolution. Dozens of countries are being consulted about how they can contribute to the effort, officials said.
"We've made inquiries about what people can provide," said a U.S. official who requested anonymity. "They've made promises about what they could do, contingent on the fact that we don't go off telling people."
Some historic allies such as Canada, which provided military forces for the gulf war, are still on the fence.
"We definitely would welcome a second resolution. If the Security Council decides on action, we will be there," said Bernard Etzinger, a spokesman for the Canadian Embassy here. "We haven't offered any units because we haven't made a decision on participating."
Some of the countries offering the strongest support are in Eastern Europe, and hope to receive American assistance in modernizing their militaries, officials said.