Interim authority is early U.S. goal

Exiles and Hussein foes inside Iraq would be part of a new government

War In Iraq

April 05, 2003|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration wants to move quickly to establish an interim government in Iraq that would include both prominent Iraqi exiles and opposition leaders who emerge from within that country.

The interim governing authority might be set up before the war ends, letting it serve as a rival to Saddam Hussein's goverment, administration officials said yesterday.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, after a White House meeting with President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, said the administration is "anxious to move quickly" to set up the interim authority.

Administration officials made it clear that the United States would wield substantial influence over the interim government, setting up a potential conflict with key European leaders, including Bush's closest wartime ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair has called for the United Nations to play a prominent role in establishing a postwar government in Iraq.

The Bush administration seems to envision the world body's postwar involvement as important but secondary.

That issue is sure to be on the agenda Monday and Tuesday, when Bush and Blair are to hold a two-day summit in Northern Ireland, bringing the two leaders face to face for the third time in less than a month.

Rice said yesterday that the United Nations would be involved after the war - offering humanitarian aid and expertise in other areas - and that the precise role of the world body will be determined later.

She made it clear, however, that the president wants the United States and Britain to have ultimate control.

`Life and blood'

Suggesting that allies who refused to support the war should not be deeply involved in reconstruction efforts, Rice said the United States and Great Britain have "given life and blood to liberate Iraq."

"It shouldn't be surprising to anyone," Rice said, "that given what we've gone through and what we're now going through, that the coalition will have the lead role."

Some lawmakers, including Republicans, have called for the United Nations, not the United States, to lead efforts to oversee postwar Iraq, arguing that the international body has the credibility and support from other nations needed to take on the task and the expense of setting up a government for a reborn country.

Compromise proposal

The proposal that emerged from yesterday's White House meeting appeared to be a compromise between officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, who disagree over the structure of a new governing authority.

Pentagon officials have called for Iraqi exiles to be the dominant voice in an interim authority, holding key positions in government ministries.

Bush, however, has appeared to side with Powell in deciding that opposition leaders inside Iraq should also be involved in the new authority, not just the exiles, some of whom the State Department distrusts.

On a related matter, the president seemed to side with Rumsfeld, who has long insisted that the United States should be the controlling force in Iraq during the transition to the post-Hussein era. Powell has pressed for a significant role for the United Nations, though in recent days he has said publicly that the United States should control the operation.

Pentagon coordination

Under the plan discussed by officials yesterday, the Pentagon-controlled Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance would coordinate efforts in Iraq and work closely with a new Iraqi interim authority.

Officials offered scant details yesterday about how the interim authority would operate but said it would draw from all religious and ethnic groups and would slowly gain more power until a permanent government could be established.

Plans call for U.S. officials to maintain a presence in Iraq only until a new government is viable, which officials have said previously could take a year or longer.

"The people of Iraq are perfectly capable of running Iraq," Bush said yesterday during a meeting with Iraqi exiles at the White House. "The U.S. will help in a transition."

Any efforts by Bush to limit U.N. participation could further alienate some of the countries that were staunchly opposed to military action against Iraq. Yesterday, three of them, France, Russia and Germany, demanded that the United Nations figure prominently in postwar Iraq.

Split over U.N. role

Blair also has argued forcefully for a major U.N. role, saying publicly that he and Bush see eye to eye. The issue of U.N. involvement has strained their otherwise tight alliance on Iraq, however.

By discussing plans for a postwar government, U.S. officials appeared to be sending a message to Iraqis that the fall of Hussein's government is inevitable.

The president and his advisers have said that many Iraqis are eager to rebel and support the overthrow of Hussein but are afraid to act until they are sure Hussein's reign is finished.

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