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Official Shakes Up Iraq Effort

Several appointees in the reconstruction operation will be replaced in a bid to surmount debilitating internal problems.

May 11, 2003|Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Slackman | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — Although he has yet to arrive, the newly appointed U.S. official charged with leading Iraq's transition already has begun to shake up the operation here -- including changing key officials -- in an attempt to overcome debilitating internal problems and cope with a dangerous volatility on the streets.

L. Paul Bremer III, a counter-terrorism expert who will supplant retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner at the top of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, has been tapped to better coordinate the civil and military aspects of the U.S. operation. He is expected to bring in several of his own people at high levels.

One of the first top officials to go was Barbara Bodine, a veteran diplomat given the key task of getting Baghdad and central Iraq running again. The agency has yet to formally announce Bodine's sudden departure, and the State Department insisted that her exit was a routine rotation, but she said she was given three days to leave. At least two other senior officials are expected to depart soon as well.

With the departing Bodine going so far as to say that "we didn't know what we were walking into," U.S. officials concede that many of the key assumptions that drove planning for the postwar administration were wrong. For instance, they are shifting from a military-style security operation to one that relies on neighborhood patrols. Across the board, they are struggling to adjust their strategies to the realities on the ground.

"It's too soon to say whether this is working or not working," said Tim Carney, the senior U.S. advisor for the Ministry of Industry and Minerals. "What you can say is that it's ragged. Some things are working because Iraqis here got their act together, especially in putting back together ministries and essential services."

Reconstruction agency staff members expressed some apprehension about the kind of changes Bremer will bring, but there was also hope that the situation could improve after he arrives this week.

"I don't know if he's a leader, but he's a manager. And that's what we need right now," a senior agency official said.

Bremer plans to replace Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen who did diplomatic duty in Baghdad in the 1980s and Kuwait during Iraq's invasion of that country in 1990, with a retired foreign service officer, said a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Others who went in with Garner -- who has said he will leave after a limited "hand-over" period -- could be rotated out, the source said. A list is circulating at the State Department of people whom Bremer wants to take with him, the official said.

In addition to Bodine, John Limbert, who served as the advisor to Iraq's Cultural Ministry, will leave. Limbert was serving in the U.S. Embassy in Iran when students took it over during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and he was among the hostages. Senior agency officials suggested that Margaret Tutwiler, the ambassador to Morocco who was once a top aide to Secretary of State James A. Baker III, could be leaving her communications post soon as well.

Bremer will be working with a system that has built-in problems, a hybrid that tries to fuse two very different government cultures: the Defense and the State departments.

At the same time, the agency's officials are struggling to deal with a litany of practical problems. The city still lacks an operating telephone system, so staff members are often forced to stand outdoors using hand-held satellite phones. Perhaps most important are security concerns, which make it impossible for the staff to move around the country, or for contractors to begin their work.

"The biggest problem is security and communication," said a senior official with the civil administration. "I would move heaven and Earth and spend a lot of money to fix those pieces on the belief that a lot of other issues would then fall into place."

The civil administration has two missions: to get the country's ministries providing services again and to foster the process for forming an interim, and ultimately a permanent, government.

In addition, a separate military operation is, at least until now, the chief authority in the country and operates as an independent institution. Bremer, who will report to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will, it is hoped, better synchronize the efforts of the two bureaucracies.

Just as the military encountered unexpected resistance in southern Iraq, the civil administration has been encountering unanticipated obstacles. When U.S. officials mapped their effort to get the country going again, they prepared for a significant flow of refugees, a humanitarian crisis, thousands of prisoners of war and for a longer honeymoon period -- a time in which Iraqi people would be heady with a sense of relief at the departure of Saddam Hussein.

Hardly a single Iraqi fled the country, however, and far fewer were internally displaced than projected. The prisoners of war have mostly been released.

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