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Iraq: Washington Determined To Be Top Player In Postwar Iraq

Who will run Iraq after the war, and what role, if any, will the United Nations have? Plans for a U.S.-led civilian administration and military occupation of Iraq in the postwar period is running into opposition in Europe, as well as Britain, the United States' chief ally in the war. But as RFE/RL reports, Washington seems determined to remain the major player in postwar Iraq.

Washington, 3 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United States is coming under growing pressure to give the United Nations a central role in postwar Iraq.

Britain, the United States' chief ally in the war in Iraq, has been a prime force behind the idea that the UN should legitimize the postwar administration of Iraq with a new resolution and that the world body should be given a central role in assisting Iraq's transition to a new self-government.

Analysts say London's strong push for UN involvement, which is the basic stance in Europe, particularly in France, is in part born from a desire to mend the frayed ties in the trans-Atlantic alliance.

The only problem is that Washington, after failing to win a second UN Security Council resolution authorizing war, may not be ready to take on another losing battle at the UN, especially after it has just finished a costly war in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said as much last week, stating in Congress that the United States had not taken on "this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have a significant dominating control over how it unfolds in the future."

Speaking in Belgrade yesterday, Powell said that Washington is eager to press forward with the task of helping Iraqis move toward self-government. "A great deal has been accomplished in two weeks. The campaign will be prosecuted to its end. I can't say how much longer it will take, but I can assure you that we all want to end this as soon as possible, so we can get on with the task of allowing the Iraqi people to form a new government," Powell said.

Just how Iraqis will get to that stage, however, remains vague. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has not spoken extensively on the issue in public.

The basic plan, however, is well-known. In the immediate aftermath of the war, the coalition forces will maintain security, and the top authority in Iraq will initially be U.S. General Tommy Franks, the chief commander of the Iraq war. Just under Franks is to be a U.S. civilian administration run by retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner that for a time will effectively take over Iraq's 23 government ministries. It's the most ambitious U.S.-led national-transformation project since World War II.

Garner's mandate is to provide humanitarian assistance, rebuild damaged infrastructure, and move the country toward an interim Iraqi authority that would lead to representative self-government.

Garner technically operates under the Pentagon, although Congress has put the State Department in charge of funding for his office. Analysts say that may make for some confusion, and could tie Garner's hands in some respects, but is unlikely to dilute the Pentagon's overall authority.

Garner's staff in Kuwait is reportedly working with Iraqi exiles on the details of creating a new country -- from what the new currency will look like, to how to build new, independent media from scratch.

All of this -- essentially remaking Iraq's political system and economy -- was originally supposed to be done in just 90 days. But officials from Garner's office are now conceding that the job may take much, much longer.

Bethsheba Crocker, a former State Department official and adviser to the National Security Council, is with the independent Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. She told RFE/RL that beyond this initial outline, little else is known of U.S. plans for postwar Iraq. "As things become safe for civilians to enter the country, General Garner's Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which is sitting with a couple hundred people in Kuwait City, will start moving into Iraq on a rolling basis to take over the civil administration of the country, under the ultimate authority of Tommy Franks. That is about as far as we get in terms of clarity," Crocker said.

Originally, the U.S. plans called for an Iraqi advisory council -- made up mostly of exiles -- to consult with the civilian administration. But Crocker said that plan seems to have been subsumed by the idea of building an interim Iraqi authority, much like what happened in Afghanistan last year.

One big difference, however, would be international involvement. Although British Foreign Minister Jack Straw has called for an international conference to help create an interim authority, Crocker said it's unlikely Washington will choose that option. "I think this is going to turn out to be sort of a U.S.-versus-U.K. issue, because I don't think that the U.S. is going to want to turn over control of deciding who gets on the Iraqi interim authority to the United Nations," Crocker said.

Analysts say Britain is keen on getting UN blessing for whatever transpires in postwar Iraq, in part to lend legitimacy to a war that did not have the explicit backing of the Security Council. The conflict is deeply unpopular in Britain and Europe and has damaged trans-Atlantic ties.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the issue during remarks in the House of Commons yesterday. "There will be difficulties as to when we make the transition to the Iraqi interim authority, as to precisely what the negotiations in the UN bring us. But I think the one point that there is in common, whatever the differences, is that everybody understands it has got to be UN-endorsed," Blair said.

Beyond providing humanitarian assistance, what role might the UN take? UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said he wants no UN role in running Iraq, and Crocker believes that any call to have the UN take over civilian administration from Washington is likely to be rejected by the Bush administration anyway.

Crocker, the author of a recent research paper on postwar Iraq published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the question boils down to whether the UN comes in once the Iraqi interim authority is formed, in an advisory role as in Afghanistan, or whether the United States stays on to advise the new authority. A third option is for all of them to work together while the United States scales down its administrative role while gradually ceding more and more functions to the Iraqis themselves.

Washington, however, continues to remain vague about what role to accord the UN. Speaking at the State Department yesterday, Andrew Natsios, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the situation remains unclear. "On the reconstruction of the country, there's still a debate going on as to how robust the role of the United Nations will be. There's no debate that the UN's going to be involved. The debate is what that will be," Natsios said.

Crocker said Washington's vagueness about the UN is the result of a Bush administration that is itself divided between the State Department, which reportedly favors a key UN administrative role, and the Pentagon, which would prefer to limit UN involvement to humanitarian assistance.

But others say the vagueness may be deliberate.

Patrick Clawson is deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank specializing in the Middle East. He told RFE/RL that the Bush administration probably does not feel confident that it can reach an agreement on the Security Council that would satisfy its own demands in Iraq.

For example, France, a veto-wielding Security Council member, has already vowed to vote down any resolution that would legitimize a U.S.-led administration in Iraq. And other countries have expressed concern about approving a UN administrative mandate in Iraq with U.S. troops providing security on the ground, arguing that this would legitimize a conflict that they opposed from the start.

As a result, Clawson said the United States has to plan on going it alone, but perhaps only for a while. "And then, if we find that it's up and running pretty well, it's quite possible that a number of Security Council members might say, 'Gee, we'd like to take that over,' and it'd be easier to achieve the agreement at the Security Council at that time, once we've already got the situation in Iraq pretty well stabilized," Clawson said.

When that might be, however, is anybody's guess.