Postwar plans raising tension

WASHINGTON - In a growing struggle involving power, money and oil, U.S. planning for a postwar Iraq is exposing fresh rifts between the United States and European allies as well as divisions within the Bush administration.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who arrived at the presidential retreat at Camp David late yesterday for a two-day meeting, is pressing President Bush to accept a "central" role for the United Nations in Iraq once Saddam Hussein's regime is destroyed, a role some in the Pentagon oppose.

France, backed by Germany and Russia, refuses to endorse a U.S.-British occupation of Iraq, putting a future U.N. mandate in doubt. And within the Bush administration, debate persists over how much influence to give prominent Iraqi exiles in the leadership of the country.

Beneath the surface, a competition is brewing over billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts, use of Iraqi oil profits and the future development of oil facilities in a country that has the world's second-largest proven oil reserves.

"It will not be easy," said Judith Yaphe, an Iraq specialist at the National Defense University who also teaches at Goucher College. "There's going to be tension over who does what, who gets what, what role people play."

The Pentagon has been planning for months to occupy Iraq after Hussein's regime is destroyed by U.S., British and a small contingent of Australian forces. An Interim Iraqi Authority, headed by retired Gen. Jay Garner and senior U.S. diplomats, is gearing up to take over Iraqi government ministries and rebuild the country until a representative Iraqi government takes shape.

Success in keeping Iraq unified, stable and headed toward democracy after the war is crucial for Bush's long-term goal of spreading democracy and suppressing terror in the Middle East, as well as advancing peace between Israel and the Palestinians. At the outset, the United States is determined that Iraq sever all ties to terrorists, abandon weapons of mass destruction and coexist peacefully with its neighbors.

But the United States' Arab-world and European allies also have a big stake in Iraq's future, and some of them harbor deep worries about a U.S.-led occupation and what it means for their own interests.

To avoid the United States shouldering all the risks and costs itself, administration officials acknowledge that they have to win support from other wealthy countries despite the bitterness that accompanied this month's failure to win Security Council approval for the war.

During their Azores summit March 16, Bush, Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar agreed to seek a U.N. mandate that affirms Iraq's territorial integrity, assures rapid delivery of humanitarian aid and endorses an "appropriate" post-conflict administration.

But what "appropriate" means is an open question. Blair, who will hold a second day of meetings with the president at Camp David today, has in mind something like the Afghanistan model, in which a special U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, worked closely with a number of Afghan factions developing a process for choosing a new leadership cadre for the country.

Britain also believes a U.N.-mandated peacekeeping force might be needed, as well as sizable donations from wealthy European and Asian countries and international financial institutions.

'Imperial arrogance'

The British experience in creating and running Iraq after World War I may be instructive. According to a recent paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Britain at the time displayed "imperial arrogance" that stirred anti-Western sentiment and in the end failed to produce a workable system of governance.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell appears to lean toward Blair's view. In a interview Tuesday with National Public Radio, he said that during the period between the fall of Hussein's regime and the transfer of authority to a new Iraqi government, "we think there is a role for the United Nations, for the European Union, all the many organizations around the world that can bring reconstruction expertise and money, and governing expertise to Iraq."

But at the Pentagon, officials view a major U.N. role with deep skepticism, fearing it would create a bloated foreign bureaucracy and inhibit Iraq's own development of a new government and economic system.

"A long-term foreign presence in a country can be unnatural," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a speech Feb. 14. "This has happened in several places with large foreign presence. The economies remained unreformed and distorted to some extent. Educated young people can make more money as drivers for foreign workers than as doctors and civil servants."

Citing East Timor, where the United Nations ran a transitional administration, Rumsfeld said, "The average income is about a dollar a day, yet the capital of East Timor is now one of the most expensive cities in Asia. Local restaurants are out of reach for most of the people. They cater to international workers who have salaries that are some 200 times the average local wage."

"This is really important," said Danielle Pletka, an American Enterprise Institute foreign policy and defense expert who sympathizes with the Pentagon view. "It's about the future of the Middle East and the new world after 9/11. We can't afford to see it screwed up by a bureaucrat of [U.N. Secretary-General] Kofi Annan's choosing."

Bush has yet to tip his hand about what kind of U.N. role he wants to see.

If he wants the United Nations to assume a major postwar role, analysts say, a way has to be found to accommodate the views of France and Russia, which each could veto involvement by the world body. French President Jacques Chirac warned recently, "France will not accept a [Security Council] resolution tending to legitimize the military intervention and giving the American and English belligerents powers over the administration of Iraq."

But without a U.N. mandate, analysts say, it's unlikely that the United States would be able to draw support from wealthy donor countries or international aid organizations.

Whatever role the United Nations assumes could have an impact on already advanced U.S. plans for the Interim Iraqi Authority. These plans, developed at the Pentagon, call for placing Iraqi exiles in key positions atop Iraq's government ministries and using soldiers from the regular Iraqi army for reconstruction work.

The possible U.N. involvement also raises questions about the future role in Iraq of the Iraqi National Congress, the exile umbrella group. Its leader, Ahmad Chalabi, has developed close ties with senior Pentagon officials and on Capitol Hill, where supporters see him as pro-Western and a strong advocate of democracy.

Chalabi has long been a source of controversy within the U.S. government, where the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency are skeptical about how much of a following he is likely to draw inside Iraq. At the State Department, officials want to postpone assigning any role to the INC until they see the kinds of leaders that emerge from Iraq's various tribal and religious groups.

Spoils of victory

The economic spoils of victory have already caused friction between the United States and other countries. In Washington and London, there is suspicion that France's tough stance over a U.N. mandate is aimed at securing contracts for French firms, a charge French officials reject.

"We see it as a question of who is able to finance reconstruction, not of who will enjoy the benefits of reconstruction," a French official said.

The Bush administration "probably misstepped at the outset in seeming to suggest that [contracts] would only go to Americans," said Eric Schwartz, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. In the past week, the U.S. Agency for International Development has made clear that foreign firms are welcome to bid as subcontractors.

The administration is already locked in debate with other countries at the United Nations over its plans to tap about $2.8 billion in unspent Iraqi oil revenue to help pay for humanitarian relief. A future debate looms over using oil profits for reconstruction.

A senior administration official said the U.S. pledge that Iraqi oil revenues are to be used to benefit Iraqis means they can't be tapped to reimburse the war costs. But that does not mean they couldn't be used to pay for reconstruction, the official said.

But Schwartz warned that the administration will have to be careful in avoiding any appearance that it wants to recoup its own costs by tapping Iraqi funds.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun