- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) — Last week top members of the Bush administration, including — for at least part of the time — the president himself and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, held two long meetings about an aspect of the Iraq crisis that could cause Washington more problems than the military action itself — what happens in Iraq after Saddam goes.

"It's a tough question and we're spending a lot of time on it," Rumsfeld admitted to a convention of military reservists Tuesday. To pave the way for a smooth transition to a stable government, Rumsfeld said, the Pentagon has appointed retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Jay Garner "to begin the process of thinking through all of the kinds of things that will be necessary in the early period."

Rumsfeld suggested that Garner, who in 1991 had been part of Operation Provide Comfort protecting Kurdish refugees from Saddam Hussein, was drawing up plans for setting up a civil administration in post-Saddam Iraq, and for bringing humanitarian aid to its deprived and suffering people.

Waiting in the wings is a collection of exiled Iraqi politicians who are suddenly seeing their dreams of returning to their homeland come closer to reality. The leading group is the U.S.-supported Iraqi National Council, an umbrella organization combining a number of political personalities and factions with differences greater than their similarities, but united in their enmity towards Saddam Hussein.

If the INC is generally looked upon as secular and pro-Western, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is a fundamentalist Shiite Islamic movement based in Iran that has in the past called for Tehran's theocratic regime to be replicated in Baghdad. Settled in the north are some 2.3 million Iraqi Kurds mostly belonging to one of two organizations with a long history of mutual enmity.

There is also a monarchist party that nurtures hopes — discounted by most analysts — of restoring a Hashemite king in Baghdad, in the person of Prince Hassan of Jordan, brother of the former King Hussein. The monarchy ended in 1958, when King Faisal I of Iraq — a cousin of King Hussein — was assassinated in a military revolt.

In Nov 2001, the Bush administration pushed, elbowed and cajoled rival Afghan politicians into attending a conference in Bonn, Germany, to shape that country's political future in the wake of the defeat of the Islamic Taliban regime. A year later, Washington adopted similar tactics to force unwilling members of the Iraqi opposition to come together to start planning for a post-Saddam Iraq.

Despite years of political disputes and personal grudges representatives of the INC, the Iranian-based SCIRI, the Iraq National Coalition — an umbrella group for former Iraqi military officers — and the two major Kurdish parties, the PUK and the KDP — met in London on Dec. 14-15 to discuss their respective visions of a future Iraq.

Predictably, no consensus emerged from the talks, but a standing committee of 75, weighted to reflect the size and importance of each political group, was cobbled together to continue working on a future structure. The parameters have already been set for them by Washington. Rumsfeld outlined them Tuesday.

"Whoever succeeds (Saddam) will not want weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Is not going to threaten their neighbors, is going to keep a single country and not allow it to be broken up in pieces, and is one that migrates in a way toward something closely approximating representation by a number of elements of the country. And something that we might call democracy, but which is respectful of minority rights, and certainly not a U.S. template or a U.K. template or another type of democracy template. It will have to be something that's uniquely Iraqi."

Top members of the administration would like to see Ahmad Chalabi, the powerful head of the Iraq National Council emerge as the leader of a democratic Iraq — although Chalabi also has his opponents in Washington. Rumsfeld gave the impression that the choice will depend on the Iraqis. "Just as in any political process: some people will strive to be leaders and fail; others will strive to be leaders and demonstrate the kind of skills and capabilities that wins support from others," he said. "They'll find the right tone and tempo to progress towards an Iraqi government."

That government, experts say, should be a mix of exiled politicians and others who remained in Iraq either by choice or by force as political prisoners. The United States and its allies should avoid handing over power to the opposition from overseas. "A government made up exclusively of exiled politicos coming from comfortable lives in Europe and the United States is likely to stir resentment, and would be like a form of colonization," said one European diplomat in Washington.

Some analysts predict that the INC, for example, would at first fare badly in a restored Iraqi democracy, but would regain ground as they established political roots in the country.

Rumsfeld made it clear Tuesday that he foresaw no early military disengagement from Iraq after Hussein's removal. After Saddam, he said, "there will be an immediate task for the U.S. military and the Coalition military." Another government source said the "liberation" of Iraq would divide into four phases.

In phase one, troops will be needed to prevent a total collapse of law and order, with armed bands of deserters roaming the streets, and an anticipated wave of vengeful acts against known Saddam stalwarts. Hopefully, units of the Iraqi army can be co-opted by the occupying force and given an increasingly greater role.

In phase two an interim administration is put in place, combining military and — gradually — civilians. Because the roots of the ruling Ba'ath party penetrate deep into Iraqi life, a line of immunity needs to be drawn and enforced so that a working bureaucracy can function, and — for example — oil production will not be interrupted.

In phase three, internationally supervised elections for local government are held, followed by a constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution and submit it for public approval through a national referendum. If the Afghan experience is any indication, the process could take up to two years. In the case of Afghanistan, from the Bonn conference to Loya Jirga took five months, and elections for a new government are not expected for another year.

In phase four — assuming the constitution is ratified — national elections are held for a new Iraqi government.

Which may be where Chalabi comes in. Or not.


This is the third of a five-part series by United Press International on the crisis in Iraq. The next part is to appear Thursday.

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