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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

U.S. Plans Rapid Transfer of Power

Officials say Washington hopes to keep U.S. military governance in Iraq as brief as possible.

March 15, 2003|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has agreed on a strategy for administering postwar Iraq that borrows key elements from its experience in Afghanistan and emphasizes a rapid transfer of authority to Iraqi leaders, a senior administration official said Friday.

The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the decision had been made to limit U.S. military governance to as short a time as possible and avoid the kind of occupation that Gen. Douglas MacArthur presided over in Japan following World War II.

"We don't want to have a MacArthur-run country for a four- or five-year period," the official said. "We want to get the administration turned over to an Iraqi administration as soon as possible."

After entering Iraq, perhaps even before the fighting is over, the United States would sponsor a conference of Iraqis from all the country's ethnic groups and regions who would choose an interim government -- much as Afghans met in Bonn, Germany, in late 2001 and chose Hamid Karzai to serve as interim leader. Karzai was elected Afghan president last summer.

National security advisor Condoleezza Rice, in an interview with Arab journalists earlier in the day, described the new strategy in general terms.

"Just as we did in Afghanistan, the United States and the coalition will stay as long as we're needed," she said. "But we have no desire to stay very long at all."

The meeting to choose an interim authority would be held in Iraq as soon as adequate security could be provided for delegates, the official said.

U.S. officials hope that certain nonpolitical civilian departments and services -- such as irrigation -- could be handed over to the authority immediately. Other departments would be turned over as soon as political control over them was secured.

"There would be a rolling transfer of authority," a second senior official said.

Institutions more closely tied to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime, such as the police and the military, would need to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch and would probably be the last transferred.

No timetable has been set, the officials said; how rapidly control is transferred would depend on conditions.

The officials said they had not decided what proportion of the interim authority would consist of Iraqi exiles, some of whom have sought to form a government-in-exile and take the lead in a postwar government.

"I think people outside the country have an important role to play, but they also know that they are going to have to win over the support of those inside the country," one official said.

Major groups within Iraq include the Kurdish groups that now control the nation's northern region; Shiite Muslims who constitute a majority of Iraqis and are concentrated in the south; and Sunni Muslims.

In organizing the conference, U.S. officials will also seek the participation of tribal leaders, especially those from tribes that have a mixed Sunni, Shiite, Arab and Kurdish membership.

The interim administration would draw up a constitution and develop a plan for choosing a permanent government.

The officials said they would recommend that the new authority build democracy "from the ground up" by organizing local elections first and choosing a permanent leadership later.

The Bush administration has still not decided whether to introduce the U.S. dollar as an interim currency or use something else. But Iraqi dinars would not be used, the officials said.

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