Washington, 7 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As allied forces have been tightening their grip on Baghdad, U.S. officials in Washington are discussing their ideas for the administration of Iraq once the fighting stops.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in an interview yesterday (6 April) with American television (NBC's "Meet the Press"), said the U.S. goal is to establish a representative government in Iraq as quickly as possible.
But Wolfowitz stressed that this cannot be done as quickly as the Kurds set up their own administration in northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. He noted that effort took about six months.
Wolfowitz said organizing a government for all of Iraq will be far more complicated. "The goal isn't immediately to set up a government [in Iraq]. The goal is to move as rapidly as possible after the regime has gone to a government that genuinely represents the Iraqi people. And we have spoken with Iraqis inside and outside the country about the notion of an interim authority that would be the bridge from our initial administration to an eventual government that represents the Iraqi people. Now it's going to take some time to get to that end point. But when we could set up an interim authority, we will have to see how things develop on the ground," he said.
The question remains who will be in charge of that interim authority. One influential U.S. senator, Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), said he is concerned that it may be dominated by expatriate Iraqis, not those who have more quietly opposed Saddam from within Iraq for the past 12 years. Biden is the vice chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Speaking yesterday on another U.S. television program (ABC's "This Week"), Biden said information he has received indicates that several of U.S. President George W. Bush's top aides are urging a majority role for one opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, which is led by Shi'ite businessman Ahmad Chalabi.
"The word was, whether it's true or not, that Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress would be 60-or-so percent and they would pick the remaining 40 percent. If that's the case, that would be a prescription for disaster," Biden said.
The senator did not say which of Bush's advisers support a leading role for Chalabi's group, but Wolfowitz is widely reported to be among them.
Biden also said he supports a role for the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in postwar Iraq. He said the United States and Britain should not be the only nations bearing the economic and other costs of keeping the peace and distributing humanitarian aid in a country of about 20 million people.
"I'd like NATO forces in there, I'd like to see other people share that responsibility. Do I want the United States, as if it's a prize, picking up the responsibility for what's going to be $20 to $25 billion a year?" Biden asked.
The Bush administration is has indicated it wants the UN role to be limited to dealing with humanitarian issues, not setting up a new government. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said repeatedly that the U.S.-British coalition partners have shouldered the economic, political, and human burden of seeking to depose Saddam Hussein. He said they should also have a central role in shaping Iraq's future government.
Britain, however, is said to favor a greater UN role. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to discuss his views on the matter today and tomorrow when the two men hold a summit in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military says it has been flying Iraqi opposition soldiers into southern Iraq to work alongside U.S. and British forces. These Iraqis, affiliated with Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) are helping to eliminate the vestiges of Saddam's Fedayeen, or guerrillas, and are distributing food and other humanitarian aid.
About 700 of these soldiers -- most of them Iraqi-Americans -- already have been operating in an area near Nasiriya, according to the INC. General Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said some of these Iraqi troops are helping allied forces establish a positive rapport with Iraqi civilians.
In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press", Pace also said the Iraqi-speaking forces have been valuable in gathering intelligence. "Having Iraqi-Americans or Iraqi speakers with our forces made it much easier for people [Iraqi residents] to come and give us information," Pace said.
Pace said he hopes these forces will be joined by defecting Iraqi forces. He said they now have a viable choice between squandering their lives on a doomed regime or joining the fight for the future of Iraq.