U.S. seeks to enlist 100 Iraqi exiles for postwar liaison jobs

Pentagon officials tell lawmakers about plans for reconstruction

March 12, 2003|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The U.S. government is trying to enlist more than 100 Iraqi exiles in America and Europe to serve as temporary advisers and liaisons with the citizens and ministries of Iraq in the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday.

In outlining some of the government's plans for a postwar reconstruction, Pentagon officials said they also planned to pay the salaries of Iraq's civilian government officials - about 2 million people - and also pay the Iraqi army to help build roads, work on bridges, remove rubble and rebuild the country.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, at a separate briefing, said the money for Iraq after a war could come not only from the United States but also from seized Iraqi assets, the oil-for-food humanitarian program and donations from other countries.

The United States will ensure that Iraqi civilians who continue to work for a new bureaucracy "are given enough to live while they're staying in place and performing what would be characterized as a useful purpose," Rumsfeld said.

No cost estimate

But neither he nor other officials would put a price tag on the enterprise.

Senior Pentagon planners, who spoke yesterday on the condition that they not be named, said the United States hoped to turn over control to an interim Iraqi government within months of the war's end.

"We intend to immediately start turning some things over, and every day, we'll turn over more things," an official said.

But at a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill, two Iraq analysts projected that rebuilding Iraq would take years - perhaps five to 10 - not months, and cost $20 billion to $48 billion in the first year alone.

"If the U.S. does go to war and removes the regime of Saddam Hussein, our interests will indeed demand an extraordinary commitment of U.S. financial and personnel resources to post-conflict transitional assistance and reconstruction," said Eric Schwartz of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Interagency group

The reconstruction effort is being led by a new government interagency group - the Office of Reconstruction of Humanitarian Assistance - which was set up in the Pentagon in late January and which will move to Iraq once it is safe to do so.

The office is headed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.

If Hussein's government is toppled by a U.S.-led invasion, Garner would serve as the top civil administrator in Iraq, reporting to Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf area.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said they were disappointed that Garner declined to appear at yesterday's hearing.

Some also said they were frustrated by what they called the lack of information from the administration on its post-war plans.

U.S. civilian teams are positioned in the region to follow troops into Iraq to begin construction work and deliver humanitarian aid, such as food and medicine.

A Pentagon planning official said that some ships and planes have been reserved for relief supplies and that more aircraft and cargo ships could be sent if needed.

A few recruited

In their effort to enlist Iraqi exiles to help rebuild the government, U.S. officials said they had hired only several so far - mostly from Michigan, where there is a sizable Iraqi-American population - but hoped to enlist more than 100.

"The reason we're bringing them in is because they have lived in a democratic country now," a Pentagon official said. "They understand the democratic process. ... And they can explain things to the people there who have been oppressed for the last 30 or so years."

The official said the Pentagon was seeking several Iraqi expatriates with particular skills to work with each of the nearly two dozen Iraqi ministries, such as public health and education. They would be asked to travel to Iraq for three to six months to help in the reconstruction effort, but not longer.

"We don't want them in Iraq as competitors to indigenous Iraqis" in pursuit of leadership roles, the official said.

Having identified Iraqi expatriates for the effort and run quick background checks on them, the U.S. government has written to their employers, asking them to grant a leave of absence to their workers.

The Pentagon has already enlisted scores of Iraqi exiles from the United States and Canada to serve as guides and translators for U.S. troops in Iraq. They are being trained by American soldiers at the Taszar air base in southern Hungary in how to work with military forces.

The first group - more than 50 - has finished training and is expected to be attached to U.S. Army and Marine units in Kuwait, officials said.

Pentagon planners also said yesterday that the United States would not become involved with selling Iraqi oil.

Instead, they said, they expected the Iraqi oil industry to continue to be overseen by the United Nations, which runs the oil-for-food sanctions program that feeds 60 percent of Iraq's population.

Sun staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

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