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AFTER THE WAR

New Civilian Chief in Iraq to Focus on Politics

Retired Army general leading reconstruction effort promises a 'good handoff' to diplomat.

May 06, 2003|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — State Department veteran L. Paul Bremer III is expected to be named the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq as early as Wednesday, and retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner says his new boss will probably arrive in Baghdad next week.

Garner, who heads the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Postwar Iraq, said Monday that Bremer would concentrate on building a new political structure for Iraq, a process for which "we really need a dedicated effort." Garner said he would focus on the physical reconstruction of the country.

In addition to overseeing Garner, who is the current top-ranking U.S. civilian in Iraq, Bremer will supervise U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Bremer will report to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

There had been no public hint before last week that the Bush administration was considering installing a civilian official above Garner.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Garner said the administration had always planned to place someone above him. He added that his own time in Iraq was always intended to be temporary. "I'll stay awhile," Garner said. "There has to be a good handoff."

When Bremer's name was leaked but no announcement followed, there were reports that some administration officials were unhappy with Garner and that the Pentagon and the State Department were clashing over whether to install the former diplomat.

Some U.S. officials disputed this version of events Monday, insisting the delay came about only because both Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell were out of the country. They said administration officials had been thinking for months about installing a civilian official above Garner, though Bremer emerged as a candidate for the post only last week.

Rumsfeld contacted Powell about a week ago and said he wanted Bremer, and Powell said he supported the choice, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Garner did not specify how long he would remain in Iraq, but other administration officials speculated that he might limit his stay to as few as six weeks or choose to stay longer under Bremer.

Some administration officials said questions involving "flow-chart and organizational issues" must still be resolved.

For the Bush administration, Bremer's appointment would have the benefit of assuring countries concerned about the leadership of Iraq that the U.S. effort has a civilian orientation. Even so, U.S. officials emphasized that the reconstruction remains under the oversight of the Pentagon and Rumsfeld.

Powell said this week that because the environment in Iraq remains hostile, the U.S. effort has to be "firmly under the military." When safety is deemed to be adequate, the United Nations will send in organizations, U.S. allies will send in peacekeepers, and a new Iraqi leadership will take control.

At that point, "the United States presence will be in the form of a United States ambassador and mission, just as it is in cases all over the world," Powell said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Both Rumsfeld and Powell have praised Garner's performance in Iraq. On Friday, Rumsfeld angrily defended Garner against suggestions that the administration was unhappy with his performance.

Richard A. Boucher, the chief State Department spokesman, said Garner and his team have worked with the British in organizing local councils in the cities of Umm al Qasr, Basra and Mosul. They have begun restoring the Iraqi oil and industry ministries and have begun putting police back on the streets.

"There's a lot of work that's been accomplished out there, and Gen. Garner and his team have done it," Boucher said Monday at his regular news briefing.

Garner acknowledged that U.S. officials were caught by surprise in one recent development.

"We didn't anticipate the looting that occurred, to the extent it did," he told reporters in his comments in Baghdad.

Bremer, 61, whom Rumsfeld has described as "a friend and an enormously talented person," has held a variety of senior posts in the government. He had a 23-year career in the diplomatic service.

In 1986, President Reagan named Bremer ambassador at large for counter-terrorism. He also served as an ambassador to the Netherlands and an official of the National Security Council.

After he retired, Bremer was hired by Kissinger Associates, a consulting firm headed by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

In 1999 he was named co-chair on the National Commission on Terrorism, which produced a report in the summer of 2000 reviewing U.S. counter-terrorism policy.

Bremer is currently chairman of the crisis-consulting practice of Marsh Inc.

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Times staff writers John Hendren and Robin Wright contributed to this report.

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