- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 11 (UPI) — The United States plans to pay the salaries of some 2 million Iraqi government workers, from ministry heads to teachers and nurses, to immediately stabilize the country and begin reconstruction once the probable war is won, senior defense officials said Tuesday.

The Pentagon is trying to recruit more than 100 free Iraqis — those who were born in Iraq but left and now live in Western democracies — to act both as liaisons with the provinces and as advisers to government ministries. They would in effect be the eyes, ears and voice of U.S. Central Command with the government agencies.

"I had great hopes for that process. But it's not going as fast as I'd like," a senior official said. "The free Iraqis … will facilitate in those provinces to explain things to people who've been oppressed for the last 30 years."

The Pentagon is explicitly not hiring members of the Iraqi National Congress — an organization of eight expatriate groups that has long advocated the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"They count, but we are not trying to hire any of them right now," the official said.

The intent is for the "free" Iraqis to serve with pay for up to 120 days and then return to the United States or Europe. The officials are concerned INC members — who have long had designs on returning to Iraq to rule — would edge out the indigenous Iraqis the United States believes ultimately need to be in charge for reconstruction to succeed.

The Pentagon wants to hire two to three "free" Iraqis with appropriate expertise to advise each of the 21 or 22 ministries, plus at least another 14 Iraqis to work with the 14 non-Kurdish provinces to determine their reconstruction needs and concerns.

"The Iraqis will continue to run the ministries, and we are going to pay their salaries," the official said. "The free Iraqis understand the democratic processes" and will help them make the transition.

"To begin you have to have a U.S. face for every ministry," he said.

The official told United Press International that the "bad guys" now in charge of some of the ministries — like the military and intelligence — will likely leave before the United States arrives.

"The really bad guys won't be there when we get there," he said. "What's left will be 'gray,'" and the bad actors among that group will likely be "fingered" by the Iraqis working for them.

Pentagon officials in charge of the specially created Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance — now with 200 staff members — are optimistic they will be able to turn the newly democratic Iraqi government over to the Iraqis quickly.

"I'm probably going to come back to hate this answer but I'm talking months," the official said. "We are going to stay as long as necessary to stand up a government of Iraq … and get out as soon as we can."

He said the United States is prepared to accept whatever democratic government is formed in Saddam's wake, provided it doesn't have weapons of mass destruction or threaten its neighbors and that it protects the ethnic groups within its borders.

"I think the United States is willing to accept any elected government expressed by the will of the people," the official said.

A key component of the reconstruction centers on the Iraqi military, which numbers around 430,000. Of them, around 150,000 are elite Republican Guards, who can be expected to remain loyal to Saddam.

The Pentagon plans to transform the remaining regular Iraqi army into a civil works corps to immediately begin rebuilding Iraqi roads and the power system and clearing mines and unexploded ordnance.

Rather than demobilizing the force and adding to unemployment, the Pentagon will pay the soldiers to rebuild — re-establishing their prestige in the society and jumpstarting the economy, the officials said.

"The regular Iraqi army has the skill sets to match the work that needs to be done," the official said.

How the reconstruction and all these salaries will be funded remains an open question. Some of the funding for Iraqi salaries could come from unfreezing Iraqi assets, the official said. He declined to say how much money that will be needed.

"We've spent a lot of time trying to establish what they are getting now, and what they should be getting," he said.

Some will come from a special appropriation from the U.S. Congress. An undetermined amount might come from Iraqi oil proceeds, which currently fund food programs that feed 60 percent of the Iraqi population. It remains unclear how that will work.

"The oil program feeds the food issue. You can't shut it down and turn the revenues in some other direction," a second senior official said.

The officials insist the United States has no designs on Iraqi oil.

"I'm not getting into the sale of oil business," the official said. "I would think … over time some of that revenue would go to reconstruction."

The official told UPI he expects there will be a new U.N. resolution dealing with the disposition of Iraqi oil. The oil-for-food program is administered by the United Nations.

He said that his real concern is not pumping the oil but maintaining the food distribution during and after the war.

"The real dicey thing is not oil so much as keeping the food distributed," he said.

There are some 40,000 distribution points serving roughly 16 million Iraqis.

Humanitarian groups have voiced serious concerns about food and health care provisions for the Iraqis in the event of war.

The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance was created on Jan. 20, and now counts a staff of nearly 200 people from the military and across the government agencies. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who headed the relief effort for the Kurds after the Persian Gulf War known as Operation Provide Comfort, heads the office.

Garner will be the civil administrator of Iraq, answering to Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks. Garner oversees three functional coordinators and three operational teams.

The reconstruction coordinator is an official from the U.S. Agency for International Development. He deployed to the Persian Gulf region a week ago, according to the Pentagon officials. The reconstruction office will oversee de-mining, energy and power, roads, rails and waterways, water services and the environment.

The civil administration coordinator will be a Defense Department official. He will head the political side of reconstruction, overseeing public health, law enforcement, agriculture, banking, education, indigenous media, labor, commerce, immigration, foreign affairs, economic development and the justice system.

The humanitarian assistance coordinator is a former ambassador. He will oversee civil affairs, emergency relief, humanitarian assistance, refugees and displaced persons, resettlements and relations with humanitarian relief agencies and organizations.

There will be three geographically based coordinators, overseeing the needs of the north, south and central regions and working with the functional offices. Each will have a staff of about 12 people. The central coordinator is expected to spend 80 percent of his time on Baghdad.

All coordinators will be civilians. The operational support groups deployed advanced teams last week.

The Pentagon is seeking international involvement, possibly at a very senior level in the chain of command, a senior official said.

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