ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Presidential candidate Wesley K. Clark called Thursday for L. Paul Bremer III, head of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq, to be removed as part of a broad strategy to end the U.S. occupation.
Clark said Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority he heads should be replaced by a non-American in charge of a new Iraqi Reconstruction and Democracy Council that would include representatives from the United States and its allies.
Clark, a retired Army general and former military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also broke with many of his Democratic rivals by raising the possibility of increasing the number of U.S. troops to complete the mission. "An increase doesn't mean you're failing," he said in a speech here at South Carolina State University.
Clark said the United States needed more special forces and other lighter units so the military could "strike hard" against the enemy and win the war. He said more Arab Americans should be recruited to help provide cultural expertise.
Traveling to the military-rich state -- South Carolina has scores of defense installations and 420,000 veterans -- Clark says his Iraq plan draws on his experience leading NATO forces in Kosovo.
Clark visited the family of the third soldier from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School to die in Iraq before presenting his Iraq proposal to a predominantly black crowd of 300 at South Carolina State University.
Clark said he knew the community was hurting and what it meant to sacrifice a life for the country. "We are all grateful for his service, and we should honor it today," Clark said of 22-year-old Army Spc. Darius Jennings, who was killed Sunday when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down in the deadliest single strike against U.S. forces since the war began.
"It wasn't a political thing. It was personal," Jennings' mother, Harriet Johnson, said of Clark's visit to her home.
Johnson has been critical of the war in Iraq since her son's death, and she has called on President Bush to visit her family, saying it's "something he should do for each and every family that had a fallen soldier."
White House spokesman Taylor Gross did not immediately comment on whether Bush would visit the family.
Under his plan for Iraq, Clark would transform the U.S. occupation into a NATO operation led by the U.S. forces. He would shut Iraqi borders, rebuild the Iraqi military and send in more intelligence officers and troops to guard weapons dumps. Clark said Iraqis should have more control of their future -- including responsibility for drafting a constitution and control of oil revenues.
Finally, Clark would create a new Atlantic Charter which would stipulate that although the United States would not give up the right to act alone, working together with European allies should be the first option.
Rival Joe Lieberman, campaigning in Florida, said Clark's plan bears a striking resemblance to the one he proposed earlier this year that called for a civilian, preferably someone from an Arab nation, to lead the reconstruction. "About a month or so ago, I welcomed Wes to the Democratic Party and to this campaign, so I guess I should welcome him today to my plan," the Connecticut senator said.