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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Bush administration is anxious to quell a growing chorus of military officers and strategists who are saying that the Pentagon is not prepared for the postwar occupation of Iraq.

Much of the reconstruction and peacekeeping work is likely to fall to the Army, which is already strained by ongoing peacekeeping deployments in Bosnia, Kosovo, the Sinai, and Afghanistan, not to mention the 50-year-old commitment of troops to South Korea.

There are more than 250,000 U.S. servicemembers in the Persian Gulf now, preparing for the actual fighting.

The big question now is, how many of those troops will have to stay in Iraq when the smoke clears?

Joint Staff officers have estimated that at least two Army divisions — 45,000 to 60,000 Army troops — will be needed in the aftermath of an Iraq war. But two weeks ago, the Army's Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "several hundred thousand soldiers" might be needed for post-war duties.

Shinseki's testimony privately enraged Pentagon officials, who had declined to offer hard estimates of post-occupation troops. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz called Shinseki's estimate "way off the mark." But Shinseki's spokesmen continue to insist that the Army official stands by his statement.

The unusually public dispute between military and civilian Pentagon leaders has raised fears that the Bush administration is underestimating the time, effort, and cost of rebuilding Iraq.

Although administration officials repeatedly insist that scores of other nations are lining up in private with offers of post-war assistance — assistance that will supposedly emerge the minute President Bush declares war — no country has publicly stepped up to the plate with such promises.

Even before a single shot is fired, one thing looks almost certain: the post-war environment in Iraq is going to be a messy and resource-intensive scene.

During and after the war, thousands of U.S. soldiers will be tasked with conducting a high-priority search for chemical and biological weapons, and to guard any that turn up until the deadly stocks can be destroyed.

Meanwhile, even a short war is almost certain to produce refugees who need humanitarian assistance. And even though U.S. military officials have pledged to avoid as much infrastructure damage as possible, they have acknowledged that there's no telling what mischief the Iraqi military may cause. Power plants, water systems, and other essential services will have to be quickly restored to avoid further human suffering.

Meanwhile, the defeat of Saddam Hussein's detested Ba'ath Party, largely made up of Sunnis, could result in a power vacuum. In the absence of Saddam's iron rule, long-simmering ethnic rivalries may come to a boil, as the Shiite majority struggles for control. U.S. troops will probably find themselves refereeing the ethnic melee.

Bush administration officials are also concerned that Iran, which has historic ties to Iraqi Shiites, may decide to take advantage of the war's end and sink some ties into a new Iraqi government.

Then there's oil. Defense officials say protecting the oil fields against Saddam Hussein's scorched-earth plans is one of their early goals in any war, but problems won't end once the dictator is defeated. Every ethnic and political group in Iraq wants control of the oil, which is worth untold billions of dollars. The Bush administration is counting on oil revenue to help finance rebuilding the country.

Perhaps the greatest threat to a peaceful post-war Iraq is the situation between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq.

Thanks to U.S. and British protection of the no-fly zones in the upper half of Iraq, the Kurds have fashioned a virtually autonomous government over the past 10 years, and they are now accustomed to independence. But that notion is anathema to Turkey, which has said it will send its own troops into Iraq, ostensibly to prevent Kurdish refugees from flooding into Turkey the way they did in the first Desert Storm.

The Iraqi Kurds, however, say Turkey is afraid that after the war its own Kurdish minority might rise up, and so plans to use military force to prevent a new Kurdish state declaring independence from Iraq. The Kurds also claim Turkey has its eye on the rich oil fields around Kirkuk.

Bush administration officials have engaged in near-constant negations with the Iraqi Kurds, asking them to stay out of the war and desist from any fighting with Turkey. The Kurds have agreed to keep a low profile during the fight against Saddam, but have said all bets are off if Turkey sends its troops into Northern Iraq.

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