Who Will Rule Iraq?
While U.S. troops grind their way toward Baghdad, the administration of President George W. Bush remains in turmoil over its post-war plans to occupy Iraq.
The main issue -- who will be in charge of the occupation -- pits the Pentagon against the State Department and its allies in Europe, notably British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Pentagon appears determined to maintain as much power for itself and its favorites in the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC) as possible, while the State Department, backed by the intelligence community and Blair, is arguing for major roles for other U.S. allies, the United Nations, and other opposition figures.
The Pentagon recently vetoed as many as eight current and former State Department officials for key posts in the occupation administration, according to the Washington Post. Excluded were a number of former ambassadors and high-level foreign service officers (FSOs) with expertise in the Arab world.
Some sources said they were vetoed because they were "run-of-the-mill" and not "doers," while others revealed they were opposed by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who has supported Israel's Likud Party in the past and is said to consider some candidates to be too pro-Arab, a bias that neoconservatives believe is endemic to the State Department's Near East bureau.
Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld has also reportedly insisted that all relief and aid work come under the jurisdiction of ret. Army Gen. Jay Garner, the coordinator of the Pentagon's office of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, who will report directly to the chief of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks.
Secretary of State Colin Powell argued in a letter to Rumsfeld last week that U.S. government relief work should be headed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which reports to the State Department. He reportedly said that international agencies and voluntary relief groups were unlikely to accept an arrangement in which they reported to the military. The aid groups themselves have called for the United Nations to assume control of relief operations.
But the Pentagon rejects that scheme. In testimony late last week, Feith insisted that as long as the situation on the ground is insecure, the military has to remain in control. "If things go well, we will be able to hand things over to the Iraqis so there would be no need for UN participation," he said.
In addition to being opposed by Powell and the relief groups, the Pentagon's anti-UN position has come under fire from Blair and the European Union (EU), which has long called for a major role for the world body in any relief and reconstruction effort, similar to that it assumed in Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban. "We believe that the UN must continue to play a central role during and after the crisis," EU leaders said last week. France, in particular, has threatened to veto any Security Council resolution that subordinates the UN to a U.S. occupation authority.
The breach between the Pentagon on one hand and Powell, the aid groups, and the Europeans on the other has become so serious that 29 prominent Democrats, neoconservatives, and right-wing Republicans published a joint letter this week that they proposed as the basis for an acceptable compromise.
Signed by analysts and former policymakers from the mainstream Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, and from right-wing think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, the letter called for Washington to "seek passage of a Security Council resolution that endorses the establishment of a civilian administration in Iraq, authorizes the participation of UN relief and reconstruction agencies, (and) welcomes the deployment of a security stabilization force by NATO allies." The statement continues, "while some seem determined to create an ever deeper divide between the United States and Europe, others seem indifferent to the long-term survival of the transatlantic partnership." The letter stated in what some sources called an implicit rebuke to both Rumsfeld and French President Jacques Chirac, "we believe it is essential, even in the midst of war, to begin building a new era of transatlantic cooperation."
Tod Lindberg of the Hoover Institution, one of the right-wing signers, said, "To my mind, it's a statement of opposition to the 'scorched earth' sense we have crossed the Rubicon and we can do everything by ourselves." Former Clinton administration official Lee Feinstein, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "The message is: 1) the U.S. doesn't need to go it alone; and 2) that it can't."
While the administration may indeed opt for such a solution, it appears clear for now that the Pentagon is still insisting on complete control of the occupation. The Post reported Monday that the Pentagon was insisting on a prominent role for former CIA director R. James Woolsey, a protege of the controversial former chairman of Rumsfeld's Defence Policy Board (DPB), Richard Perle, who has also been one of the most outspoken champions of radical change throughout the Arab Middle East.
Woolsey, who also helped lead the media campaign to link Iraq to al Qaeda and has blamed Saudi Arabia's Wahabi establishment for anti-U.S. sentiment in the region, was reportedly being promoted by Feith as the occupation's minister of information, but other officials thought that his previous link to the CIA might reduce his credibility in that post. Woolsey has also been one of the strongest Washington supporters of the INC and its controversial leader, Ahmed Chalabi.
Both Woolsey and Garner have been associated with the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs (JINSA), which promotes military and strategic ties between the United States and Israel. Woolsey serves on the board of advisers of JINSA, as well as the Pentagon's DPB, and several other neoconservative groups, including Americans for Victory Over Terrorism.
Garner, who was also promoted by Feith and Perle as the best candidate for administering the occupation, helped the humanitarian effort to save hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq in 1991. He visited Israel as a guest of JINSA in 1998 and in October 2000 was one of 26 U.S. military leaders to sign a staunchly pro-Israel statement released by JINSA that condemned the escalating "intifada."
Jim Lobe is a political analyst with Foreign Policy in Focus. He also writes regularly for Alternet and Inter Press Service.