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World Bank: Wolfowitz's Future Uncertain After Critical Report

Paul Wolfowitz (file photo) (epa) May 15, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Because of his central role in U.S. war plans in Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz has always stirred passions.

Today, he faces what may be a make-or-break meeting on his future before the World Bank's 24-nation board of shareholder governments.

That comes after the bank's ethics panel concluded on May 14 that Wolfowitz violated his contract, and called on the board to determine today whether he is able to "provide the leadership needed" for the bank to fulfill its mission.

But opposition to Wolfowitz's presidency has been building for weeks:

There have been periodic protests outside the bank's headquarters in Washington, including one last week. They follow revelations last month that Wolfowitz arranged for a lucrative pay raise in the reassignment of his longtime companion, Shaha Riza, who remained on the bank's payroll.

The 63-year-old former deputy U.S. defense secretary has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He continues to have the support of the Bush administration, but his appearance before the bank board later today is expected to be his last chance to save his job.

'Failure To Accept Responsibility'

Wolfowitz has admitted mistakes in handling the pay raise and promotion for Riza, a World Bank Middle East expert.

On April 12, Wolfowitz offered an explanation for raising her pay from about $130,000 a year to $180,000, shortly after his arrival at the bank in early 2005.

"I made a mistake for which I am sorry. But let me also ask for some understanding," he said. "Not only was this a painful personal dilemma, but I had to deal with it when I was new to this institution and I was trying to navigate in uncharted waters."
"I think that for many people, this battle is a proxy war for Paul
Wolfowitz's blind spots and judgment errors in a host of other areas."

But in its statement on May 14, the World Bank's investigating committee called Wolfowitz's defense "notable for absence of any acceptance by Mr. Wolfowitz himself of responsibility or blame for the events that transpired."

It said that Wolfowitz had violated the bank's Code of Conduct and his involvement with Riza represented a conflict of interest.

Wolfowitz called the findings "unbalanced and flawed" and argued that the panel had omitted statements and documents that support his position.

Proxy War

Steve Clemons, an analyst with the New America Foundation, says a lot of the opposition to Wolfowitz is based as much on his past role at the Pentagon as it is on his present one at the World Bank.

"I think that for many people, this battle is a proxy war for Paul Wolfowitz's blind spots and judgment errors in a host of other areas," Clemons says.

If it is a "war," the battle lines are being clearly drawn.

In a recent interview with U.S. Fox News television, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney called Wolfowitz "a very good president of the World Bank," adding, "I hope he will be able to continue."

But 37 World Bank country directors wrote in a letter to the bank's board and to Wolfowitz on May 14 that his leadership is damaging the bank's reputation and fight against poverty.