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Who's In Charge Of Iraq Policy?

by Jim Lobe

Neo-Cons Launch Attack On Colin Powell And Diplomacy
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- One day after U.S. President George W. Bush proclaimed victory in the war against Iraq from the flight deck of a homeward-bound aircraft carrier off San Diego, the war between the Pentagon and the State Department seemed to be raging as furiously as ever.

It appears that the Department may have mounted something of a coup d'etat against the neo-conservative hawks around Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld when word leaked out that a former diplomat, L. Paul Bremer III, will become Washington's new viceroy in Baghdad.

But, as in almost everything involving Iraq -- or the Mideast road map, or North Korea -- these days, no one could say with certainty who was really up and who really down at the moment.

So it goes these days in the capital of the global hegemon, as the president himself, pre-occupied with the electoral fate of his father after the first Gulf War, appears eager to turn the nation's attention back to domestic matters.

With Bush determined to show the electorate that he is now focused on the troubled economy rather than on planning for yet another war, U.S. intentions in Iraq remain unclear.

In recent days, for example, a number of different and, to some extent mutually exclusive, plans about what Washington wants to do with Iraq's oil industry have surfaced in the press.

One group of advisers closely tied to the Pentagon is calling for rapid privatization; another closer to the State Department favors a far more conservative approach; while a third and more eclectic group wants Washington to replicate a system used in Alaska, whereby each citizen receives a share in cash of the industry's yearly profits.

Or take the question of how quickly to set up an Iraqi governing authority and who should run it.

Until last week, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had argued in favour of waiting at least several months to give some time for internal leaders to emerge, rather than to go with a Pentagon plan to quickly set up a "transitional government" as long called for by its favorite exile group, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Ahmed Chalabi.

Earlier this week, the 'New York Times' reported the Pentagon had gained the upper hand in the struggle largely due to increasing concerns about Iranian influence over the majority Shiite population, as well as growing anti-Americanism among Sunnis.

To deflect both trends, policymakers reportedly concluded that putting an Iraqi face -- even if that of Chalabi, who has not lived in the country for more than 40 years -- on the occupation had become far more urgent.

But State Department officials insisted no decisions have been made. And they also noted with ill-disguised glee that even Chalabi's Pentagon patrons were being forced to admit that their hero appeared to have less of a following in Iraq than they had been led to believe.

Moreover, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) has become increasingly unhappy with the INC and its militia, the so-called Free Iraqi Forces, which have reportedly set up roadblocks and looted buildings and villas without U.S. authorization. Some even got into a firefight with U.S. forces last Sunday night.

It is in that context that Bremer's anticipated appointment, which administration officials said Friday will be announced early next week, has reshuffled the board once again.

Rumsfeld had handpicked ret. Gen. Jay Garner to oversee the occupation and report to Centcom commander, Gen. Tommy Franks. Garner, who spent the early part of the war in Kuwait, has been in Baghdad for more than a week. The Defense Secretary had also selected his own chief of staff, Lawrence di Rita -- whose wife is on the staff of the pro-INC Committee for the Liberation of Iraq -- to also play a prominent role, as he did in a meeting of 300 Iraqi leaders convened by Garner in Baghdad this week.

But it now appears that Garner will report to Bremer, who may report directly to the White House without even going through Franks.

Leak of his appointment clearly embarrassed Rumsfeld, whose press office emailed a rare statement by the secretary asserting, "Jay Garner is doing a truly outstanding job for the nation. Any suggestion to the contrary is flatly untrue and mischievous. The White House has made no announcement regarding other appointments."

In testimony before Congress this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell, still smarting from a slashing attack last week by Rumsfeld confidante and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, had hinted at the appointment without mentioning either the position or Bremer's name.

State Department officials said the move signalled a victory for Powell, who, with strong support from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had argued that the United Nations, independent relief and humanitarian groups and even allied nations would be far less inclined to help with peacekeeping and reconstruction if they had to report to a general, even if he was retired from military service.

At the same time, Bremer is no dove. The State Department's counter-terrorism chief during the administration of former President Ronald Reagan and chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism which concluded its work in 2000, Bremer worked for Kissinger Associates after he left the foreign service. While his views are generally quite conservative, he also is seen as a consummate realist who lacks the kind of missionary spirit for democracy that aides around Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney espouse.

Like the neo-conservatives, he has long called for a very hard line against what he calls "extremist Islam" and for aggressive tactics, including assassination, in pursuing and pre-empting suspected terrorists.

In a 1996 'Wall Street Journal' article, he called on then-president Bill Clinton to deliver ultimatums to Libya, Syria, Iran and Sudan to cease any support for terrorism or face military action. His rhetoric in that regard has been distinctly "Rumsfeldian."

But Bremer has also voiced great skepticism about exporting democracy, particularly to what he calls "ethnically aroused" parts of the world, such as the Middle East, a view which puts him very much at odds with the neo-conservatives.

Despite his strong sentiments on fighting "extremist Islam," Bremer's consensus-building skills, which were sorely tested in both the Reagan administration and the Terrorism Commission, are highly regarded. Between the Pentagon and the State Department, they will be badly needed.

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Albion Monitor May 2, 2003 (

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