The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, facing persistent problems with restoring order in much of Iraq, has formed the Iraq Stabilization Group to expedite its rebuilding and security efforts there. Ultimate responsibility for reconstruction has been shifted from the Pentagon to the White House, under Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.
Washington, 8 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- At a news conference in Washington on 6 October, U.S. President George W. Bush expressed confidence that all is going well in Iraq.
"The situation is improving on a daily basis inside Iraq. People are freer, the security situation is getting better, the infrastructure is getting better, the schools are opening, the hospitals are being modernized," Bush said.
During the same appearance, however, Bush appeared to contradict that conclusion by discussing the creation of the Iraq Stabilization Group, under which the ultimate oversight of Iraqi reconstruction will no longer rest with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld but with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and the White House National Security Council.
"This group formed within the National Security Council is aimed at the coordination of interagency efforts, as well as providing a support group to the Department of Defense and [top U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul] Bremer," Bush said.
The fact that Rumsfeld was originally in charge of Iraqi reconstruction represented a shift from past practice. Historically, such efforts have been the province of the State Department, which reportedly had spent 18 months developing a reconstruction plan for Iraq in case the United States went to war there.
Bush originally decided to give the job to Rumsfeld's Pentagon, but the White House now recognizes that the job has not been going well. That's the conclusion of Marina Ottaway, a senior associate of the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington policy center.
Indeed, in an interview with the "Financial Times" yesterday, Rumsfeld said he had not been informed of the creation of the Iraq Stabilization Group beforehand.
Ottaway told RFE/RL that the creation of the Iraq Stabilization Group and the shift of responsibility show that Bush now regrets putting the Pentagon in charge. "I think that there is an implicit criticism of what the Pentagon has been doing," she said. "What is clear is that nobody at this point has a compass for the political transition any longer because the process that they had devised is not working."
Ottaway said the occupation of Iraq is more difficult than similar situations in Germany and Japan after World War II because the country has not been defeated. Instead, she said, its army dispersed as U.S. and allied forces moved deeper into the country, and now some former officers are apparently involved in the bloody resistance. More than 100 U.S. and British soldiers have been killed in Iraq by hostile fire since the end of major combat operations on 1 May.
Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, another private think tank in Washington. In an interview with RFE/RL, he noted that the creation of the Iraq Stabilization Group comes a week after the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq reported that attacks on his personnel were increasing in frequency and severity, with between three and six U.S. military personnel being killed -- and as many as 40 being wounded -- every week.
"It's an implicit vote of no confidence in the Pentagon's handling of Iraq," Carpenter said. "The security situation in Iraq is less than stable, and the Pentagon has had an extended period of time to get it right and really hasn't gotten it right yet. So the White House is taking more control."
In an interview with RFE/RL in May, Carpenter commented on the appointment of L. Paul Bremer, who had a long history with the State Department, to replace retired U.S. Army General Jay Garner as the chief civil administrator in Iraq. He said the choice of Bremer demonstrated the increased influence of Secretary of State Colin Powell in an enterprise being overseen by Rumsfeld.
But Carpenter said he does not necessarily see a parallel decline in Rumsfeld's influence with the shift of responsibility for Iraq's reconstruction from the Pentagon to Rice's National Security Council.
Instead, Carpenter sees what he called a lessening of Bush's confidence in some of Rumsfeld's top advisers. Carpenter specifically cites Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the administration's Iraq policy.
Carpenter recalled that Wolfowitz and other Defense Department officials received cool, if not hostile, receptions at recent congressional hearings, even from members of Bush's own Republican Party.
In particular, senators criticized earlier claims by the officials that Iraqi oil would pay for the country's reconstruction. Now, Bush is seeking $87 billion for operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, including about $20 billion for rebuilding Iraq.
"Remember, Wolfowitz got a very rough reception on Capitol Hill a short while ago," Carpenter said. "Even Republicans were less than pleased with him, and I'm sure that word has gotten its way to the president."
Ottaway said Bush's decision to expedite reconstruction with the Iraq Stabilization Group also was driven by impatience -- on the part of Iraqis, on the part of America's European allies and on the part of many in U.S. politics -- to restore sovereignty to the people of Iraq.
According to Ottaway, Powell spoke unrealistically last month when he urged the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to draw up a constitution within six months so that elections can be held next year and U.S. forces can be withdrawn.
Ottaway said deciding on the authors of the constitution alone will take time, and drafting the document itself will take even longer. The whole process, she said, could take years -- and the Bush administration's plan is not to withdraw U.S. forces until a fully formed Iraqi government is in place.
But it would be inappropriate for the United States to keep occupation forces in Iraq for that long, she added. The Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment, where Ottaway studies, recently issued a paper suggesting an alternative approach that is quicker, if not as thorough.
"What we recommend instead is that we just focus on getting the Iraqis to approve an interim constitution, elect quickly a constituent assembly and a government of national reconciliation to which the U.S. could transfer sovereignty, and then start trying to work out the problems of what a [permanent] government and a constitution should look like," Ottaway said.
Ottaway said an interim government should be able to stabilize Iraq with little U.S. help until a permanent government is elected. This would be consistent with Bush's move to expedite reconstruction with the Iraq Stabilization Group.
Carpenter counters that the whole idea of the group makes little sense. He said the Bush administration seems not to understand the very nature of the problem it faces. "The problem is not bureaucratic organization," he said. "The problem is the substance of the policy, that there are a significant number of Iraqis who regard the U.S. as an alien occupying power. They are resisting that occupation, and they are inflicting damage on the U.S. military force there and creating a good deal of trouble in terms of efforts to repair the infrastructure. That's not going to change simply by changing the bureaucratic arrangements back here [in Washington]."