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Postwar Plans Shift Into High Gear

U.S. may use Iraq's oil income and frozen assets to rebuild the nation and set up a democracy.

March 12, 2003|John Hendren and James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The United States is preparing its most elaborate postwar reconstruction plan since the World War II era for Iraq, defense officials said Tuesday, one that would probably use the nation's oil income and frozen assets to pay Iraqi soldiers and government workers to rebuild the nation and establish a democratic government.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing that if the United States launched an attack, the money to rebuild Iraq would probably not come from the U.S. Treasury. Instead, more than $1 billion of Iraqi assets seized by the international community, an oil-for-food program allowed under U.N. sanctions imposed after the Persian Gulf War, and contributions from U.S. allies would fund the effort, he said.

In a background briefing to reporters, Pentagon strategists said they plan to keep Iraqi agencies that employ more than 2 million people functioning after the war. They intend to hand off governance to civilian authorities in months rather than years, said a senior defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The briefings seemed aimed at answering critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who have said that the reconstruction effort would be too costly and require too great a commitment of U.S. troops.

President Bush picked retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner in January to serve as administrator in a postwar Iraq under the U.S. Central Command. Garner heads the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

The Pentagon plans to divide Iraq into three sectors, each governed by a regional coordinator who would report to Garner. The U.S. has already begun to hire Iraqi exiles to assist, the officials said.

As the Pentagon outlined its plans, a group of foreign policy veterans, economists and military experts from previous administrations was releasing a report that calls for a long-term commitment by Washington to postwar stabilization.

The study, by the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations, says the effort could cost up to $20 billion a year for several years. The Pentagon offered no cost estimates Tuesday for its reconstruction effort. But both its plans and the council's report assume that the United States -- and allies, if international assistance is forthcoming -- will face a lengthy and costly period of involvement in Iraqi civilian affairs. The administration and outside experts agree that the long-term commitment will ultimately determine the success of military intervention.

In a Senate hearing Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans alike criticized the Bush administration for offering few specifics on the costs and the number of troops involved. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) called the plan "extremely vague." Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said U.S. officials would probably remain in Iraq for "an extended period of time" and complained that Garner canceled an appearance before the committee Tuesday.

"This, in my judgment, is a missed opportunity for the administration to communicate its views on Iraq reconstruction, not only to senators, who want to help in meeting potentially complex and expensive requirements, but also to the American people, whose long-term support of these efforts will be a necessity," Lugar said.

Others complained that the Bush administration has been cagey about assessing the cost of rebuilding Iraq even as it has solicited bids for some of the work. U.S. officials said this week that several companies had been invited to bid for contracts worth up to $900 million to help rebuild roads, bridges and other facilities. Among them were Fluor Corp., the Bechtel Group Inc. and Halliburton Co., where Vice President Dick Cheney served as chief executive before leaving for the 2000 campaign.

Defense officials said Garner was unable to attend the hearing due to a scheduling conflict.

The Pentagon's postwar reconstruction plan puts together some strange bedfellows. Garner's organization would ensure funding for the Iraqi army, among other institutions, which would be called on for construction and other work.

Pentagon and intelligence officials already are dropping leaflets and e-mailing army officials in Iraq, urging them to stand down in the event of war in exchange for consideration after hostilities end, U.S. defense officials said. Although Iraq's Republican Guard and other elite units loyal to President Saddam Hussein would not be allowed to play a role in a postwar government, regular army units that cooperated with U.S. officials would, Rumsfeld said.

"They are being communicated with privately at the present time," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "And they will receive instructions so that they're -- they can behave in a way that will be seen and understood as being nonthreatening. And they will be not considered combatants."

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