- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

President Bush yesterday asserted greater White House control over postwar Iraq in the hope of accelerating the slow pace of democratization and persuading Congress to approve reconstruction funds.

By deputizing National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to head up an “Iraq Stabilization Group,” the president also wants to counter the daily drumbeat of negative headlines from Baghdad. He believes reporters are not adequately covering the success stories of allied forces.

“We’re making good progress in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said during a joint press conference with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell it when you listen to the filter.”

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House effort will buttress, not undermine, the authority of the Pentagon and U.S. envoy L. Paul Bremer, who is running Iraq until a new government is created.

“This is just a way to kind of strengthen our assistance to what’s going on in Iraq,” Mr. McClellan said. “This group can help cut through some of the bureaucracy and red tape here in Washington, D.C.”

Mr. Bush’s move comes as Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail sharply question his request for $21 billion to rebuild Iraq. By giving his most trusted foreign policy adviser greater oversight of those funds, the president hopes to quell Democratic grumbling.

“The Congress is considering the wartime supplemental now,” Mr. McClellan said. “This is a package that will provide a tremendous amount of resources to help us achieve our objectives in Iraq.”

He added: “We’re going to have a lot more resources going to that effort and we want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to support those efforts.”

Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, meanwhile, will leave Monday for a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq to highlight business opportunities and tout success stories.

“I think it’s important to get the word out there’s a lot of good things happening over there,” Mr. Evans told The Washington Times yesterday. He said his trip wasn’t part of a broad restructuring program, but that the president “certainly thinks for me to go over there is a good idea.”

Mr. Evans said Mr. Bremer and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld encouraged him to visit Iraq, and that he especially wants to buttress efforts of workers from his department who are there.

“There’s a lot of good things going on over there. Businesses are opening up in Iraq,” Mr. Evans said. “We have a few people on the ground from the Department of Commerce that are helping the Governing Council put the policies in place that will start to create the environment for investment in Iraq.

“There are a number of companies that were operating in Iraq before sanctions that are now ready to go back into Iraq.”

Mr. Bush praised the Pentagon and Mr. Bremer for their work in postwar Iraq.

“I really appreciate the effort of the Americans who are there and our coalition partners who are there who are working under very difficult circumstances,” he said. “Condi’s team is going to make sure that the efforts are continued to be coordinated so that we continue to make progress.”

Miss Rice’s team will be divided into four areas: counterterrorism, economics, communications and politics. Her underlings at the National Security Council will work with undersecretaries of various Cabinet agencies to oversee progress in these functions.

“Our efforts are accelerating in Iraq, and this is a way to focus in on those areas,” Mr. McClellan said.

Mr. Bush suggested that the group would play the role of traffic cop among disparate government agencies involved in Iraq’s reconstruction and democratization.

“This group formed within the National Security Council is aimed at the coordination of interagency efforts, as well as providing a support group to the Department of Defense and Jerry Bremer,” he said. “That’s the purpose.”

Also yesterday, the president ordered the White House staff to meet today’s 5 p.m. deadline for turning over documents that might shed light on whether the administration improperly disclosed the identity of a CIA employee. The documents have been requested by the Justice Department.

“Gather all the information that’s requested and get it ready to be analyzed by the Justice Department,” Mr. Bush said. “When they ask for information, we expect the information to be delivered on a timely basis.”

He added: “I want there to be full participation, because I am most interested in finding out the truth.”

Mr. Bush said the probe might help curb such disclosures.

“It’ll not only hold someone to account who should not have leaked,” he said, “but also hopefully we’ll help send a clear signal we expect other leaks to stop as well.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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