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Naming of Iraq Overseer Spotlights Internal Dispute

May 07, 2003|Robin Wright | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Ending one battle within the administration about postwar Iraq, President Bush on Tuesday named L. Paul Bremer III to be the top civilian administrator in Baghdad -- an appointment delayed in part by yet another internal squabble over who would be his boss.

The new position was seen as an attempt to restore order both in Iraq and within the Bush administration as Iraqis move into the critical phase of selecting an interim government.

Officially, Bremer was appointed special presidential envoy to coordinate political and reconstruction programs, which have proved far more demanding than anticipated. But the real stakes in the appointment were who would direct the political transformation of Iraq and how it would play out, administration officials say.

That in turn will help determine the outcome of pivotal issues: Which Iraqis will be invited as delegates to select the post-Saddam Hussein government? What will be the balance between U.S.-backed exiles and Iraqis who remained in the country under Hussein? And how far will the United States go to install its own past favorites and allies in top slots?

Pentagon policymakers are at odds with several administration agencies on these issues. On the other side is what one official called a "curious alliance" of the State Department, National Security Council, CIA and the U.S. Central Command, which ran the war, say officials familiar with the debate.

They are increasingly concerned that the Pentagon's determination to ensure a pro-U.S. interim government could backfire on Washington.

With a State Department background but neoconservative support, Bremer is seen as a potential "healer" who can bridge the chasm, particularly between the State Department and the Pentagon, according to a well-placed official critical of Pentagon policymakers. Bremer's appointment is seen as a boon for the State Department.

Unlike retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the current postwar administrator in Iraq, Bremer is also considered a figure who can more decisively deal with the myriad problems facing the country. Garner will now report to Bremer, who will answer to the Pentagon and advise the president, a White House announcement of his appointment pointedly said.

"He's a man of enormous experience, a person who knows how to get things done. He's a can-do type person. He shares the same values as most Americans share, and that is our deep desire to have an orderly country in Iraq that is free and at peace, where the average citizen has a chance to achieve his or her dreams," Bush said in announcing the appointment.

The amiable and respected Garner had experience in northern Iraq in the early 1990s, but he has had difficulty balancing the disparate American teams now deployed in Baghdad and in reconciling conflicting instructions, U.S. officials said.

Garner was also appointed by the Pentagon, which made him beholden to its preferences, officials said. Bremer, as a presidential appointee who has contacts in both camps in Washington, can easily reach beyond the Pentagon, the officials said.

"For Garner, the Pentagon was his first and last stop," the well-placed official said. "If Bremer disagrees with the Pentagon, he's enough of his own man that he'll generate enough discussion to steer things in a different direction."

For more than a year, the Pentagon has dominated Iraq policy. Its choices repeatedly prevailed, as in the appointment of Garner, and U.S. military assistance to Ahmad Chalabi, the formerly exiled chief of the Iraqi National Congress. His Free Iraqi Forces militia was trained, armed and transported into Iraq during the war by U.S. troops.

Officials at the State Department, CIA and National Security Council have been increasingly concerned as the big decisions neared on forming an interim government. They said Pentagon policymakers appeared to ignore calls for greater participation by Iraqis who lived in the country under Hussein.

Britain and other allies as well as many of the humanitarian and relief groups now getting back into Iraq have also voiced concern about the military face of the U.S. team running Iraq. Appointing a civilian coordinator is critical for public diplomacy, they argue.

Bremer served for 23 years in the State Department before going into the private sector with Kissinger Associates. As a former ambassador, he has experience that will help in charting a political course for Iraq and in the diplomacy needed to deal with various rival Iraqi factions.

But his arrival in Iraq, expected late next week, may not end the policy battles in either Baghdad or Washington, U.S. officials predict. State Department officials caution that because Bremer is an ally of many neoconservatives who are seen as dominant in the Pentagon, he is likely to take their advice into account.

"He is likely to do some things that please one side or the other and some things that displease one side or another," said a U.S. official involved in Iraq policy. "But at least that's better than the one-sided way things were run before."

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