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Internal Bush Admin Fight Over Post-Saddam Iraq

by Jim Lobe

on Committee for the Liberation of Iraq
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- While final touches are being put on war plans that could involve as many as 250,000 U.S. troops, government officials here are fighting among themselves over the shape of a post-war Iraq.

Neo-conservative forces hoping for a complete removal of the governing Baath regime from Baghdad and the creation of a new democratic state along the lines of a post-World War II Germany or Japan are increasingly worried that the administration will settle for the removal of only the top layer of President Saddam Hussein's government.

"It is very difficult for me to conceive of democratic institutions being established in Iraq with the Baathist power structure mostly intact," said Randy Scheunemann, executive director of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), a group created last November that includes, among other influential foreign policy players, Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle and former Secretary of State George Shultz.

"It's like taking out Hitler and (SS Commander Heinrich) Himmler and leaving almost everyone else in place," he added.

The same forces are also angry about the latest consultations of Bush's special envoy to the Iraqi opposition, Zalmay Khalilzad, who, they say, appears inclined to exclude the exiled Iraqi National Congress (INC) from a leading role in a transitional administration.

Khalilzad, who met INC and other opposition leaders in Sulaymaniyah in U.S.- and British-protected northern Iraq last weekend, informed them of plans to install a U.S. military governor in Baghdad for up to a year to oversee the transition with the aid of an appointed "consultative council" and a judicial committee that would draft a new constitution.

INC sources briefed by Khalilzad also told the Washington Post that the U.S. planned to remove only the top one or two Baathist officials in each government ministry, rather than attempt a much more sweeping purge of the structure that has ruled Iraq for more than a quarter century.

"Power is being handed essentially on a platter to the second echelon of the Baath Party and the Iraqi officer corps," Kanan Makiya, an influential INC associate who met with Khalilzad and recently Bush himself at the White House, told the Post.

Makiya and other INC sources said Khalilzad appeared to be favoring the interests of neighboring states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which have expressed strong concerns about the implications of a major purge of the existing governmental and military apparatus on the stability of Iraq and the entire region.

"They have come to the arrogant conclusion, 'Why piss around with the opposition? Why not do this in a way the Arab regimes will be much happier with?'" Makiya told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper after the meeting.

A similar concern about the regional implications of Saddam's removal prompted severe warnings by Khalilzad to Kurdish opposition groups on the weekend against resisting a Turkish move into northern Kurdistan once U.S. troops invade.

Ankara, which is believed to already have about 2,000 troops in the region, is worried that the Kurds will be tempted by the U.S. invasion to quickly seize oil-rich Kirkuk or Mosul, which could then form the basis of an independent Kurdish state which could, in turn, revive the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey itself.

Washington reportedly has given the Turks a green light to send their own forces into northern Kurdistan in exchange for their agreement to let the U.S. military use their territory as the jumping-off point for a northern invasion of as many as 35,000 troops, as well as up to $16 billion in various forms of aid.

Khalilzad's advice to both the INC and the Kurds appeared to reflect the long-standing views of so-called "realists" in the State Department and the CIA who have been battling the pro-INC hawks centered in the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld over Washington's Iraq and Mideast policies since even before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that launched Washington's "war on terrorism".

In addition to their sensitivity to the interests of Iraq's neighbors, both the State Department and the CIA, as well as the uniformed military with experience in the Gulf, have been openly skeptical about the INC. They have also ridiculed the neo-conservatives' notion that any democratizing of Iraq would have a "domino effect" on the rest of the region.

Cheney himself has reportedly come to share their skepticism, particularly of the INC's leader, Ahmed Chalabi, who went to northern Kurdistan late last month reportedly in hopes of preparing a provisional administration that could assume power in territory taken by U.S. forces as they made their way to Baghdad.

It was the INC that nominated as many as 3,000 volunteers now being trained by the U.S. at a military base in Hungary to act as military police, interpreters, spotters, and guides for invading U.S. forces.

"When Cheney took a look at the edifice the U.S. was creating, he apparently decided it couldn't bear the weight of international scrutiny," an anonymous official told the 'Los Angeles Times' last week. The official said Cheney's distancing from the group has had a "chilling effect" on its Pentagon supporters who, according to another official, have not yet given up the fight.

INC supporters were deeply disturbed by another meeting last week between Khalilzad and exiled former Iraqi foreign minister Adnan Pachachi, who, according to 'The New York Times', was being sounded out for a senior position in a transitional government. As a well-respected Sunni Muslim - the minority group that has dominated Baghdad under Saddam - some U.S. officials have argued that he would make a reassuring figure of continuity in a new government.

But the INC and its Pentagon allies protested the meeting, pointing out that Pachachi, among other views, had advocated Kuwait's absorption by Iraq from 1961 until 1999, and questioned Israel's right to exist. Kuwait actually was part of Iraq when it was known as Mesopotamia. It was detached by Great Britain after World War I when the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

"The outreach to Mr. Pachachi... suggests that the United States is mainly interested in perpetuating the status quo in a post-Saddam Iraq, and not in promoting democracy," one official told the Times.

But pro-INC forces in and outside the administration remain optimistic that ultimately Bush will support their side.

"The fact that one White House envoy is off having a rather strange meeting in the UAE is no indication that this president is going to give up on freedom for the Iraqi people," said Scheunemann. Paraphrasing a recent statement by Cheney himself, he added, "We are not going to risk American lives to replace one dictator with another."

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Albion Monitor February 17, 2003 (

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