u.s. plans interim military rule in postwar iraq

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    U.S. Plans Interim Military Rule in Postwar Iraq

    By Peter Slevin and Bradley Graham
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Friday, January 17, 2003; Page A15

    U.S. military commanders will likely rule Iraq for at least several months in the aftermath of a U.S.-led ouster of President Saddam Hussein, according to Bush administration blueprints for Iraq's future that outline a broad and protracted American role in managing the reconstruction of the country.

    The administration's plans, which are nearing completion, envision installing a civilian administration within months of a change of government, U.S. officials said. But the officials said that even under the best of circumstances, U.S. forces likely would remain at full strength in Iraq for months after a war ended, with a continued role for thousands of U.S. troops there for years to come.

    Iraqis relegated to advisory roles in the immediate postwar period would gradually be given a greater role, but they would not regain control of their country for a year or more, according to current U.S. thinking.

    A primary mission for U.S. forces if hostilities broke out would be to protect the country's oil fields and prevent rival factions from settling scores or grabbing territory. During the initial postwar phase, the U.S. military and its partners would concentrate on maintaining stability and searching for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, officials said.

    Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of any land forces to enter Iraq, would be expected to remain as the top military commander on the ground, a senior defense official said.

    The plans, which have been under development for months, have yet to be presented to President Bush. Officials emphasized that much remains unknown and much could change, depending on how Hussein's rule ends. But the blueprints reveal that the administration is preparing for what would be a significant, long-term commitment of manpower, money and other resources to governing and rebuilding Iraq, a fractious country of 24 million people in one of the world's most volatile regions.

    The administration intends to call for the prosecution of Iraq's top civilian and military leaders for war crimes or other offenses. Decisions about lower-ranking officials would be made later by Iraqis, with some perhaps offered incentives for good behavior. U.S. officials expect that much of the existing Iraqi bureaucracy would continue to manage day-to-day government tasks such as public health and utilities.

    Despite months of negotiations with Iraqi exiles in Europe, the United States and the Middle East, the Bush administration does not intend to install a government of opposition figures. Members of the opposition community would be given chances to prove themselves as part of a prospective Iraqi leadership.

    The magnitude of the reconstruction task envisioned under the blueprint is arousing concern in the Defense Department, which has no desire to assume control of Iraq as the U.S. military did in Japan and part of Germany in 1945. Adding to the worry is widespread anxiety in the Middle East about the prospect of a dominant U.S. role in governing an Arab country.

    "As this gets nearer, the enormity of the prospect of the United States running an Arab country sinks in more and more," said one official from outside the Pentagon, who added that the administration wants to "make sure we do not get tagged as the ultimate neo-colonialist."

    On the other hand, many U.S. officials are wary of turning over management of Iraq to the United Nations, which has never undertaken such an ambitious project. Under discussion is the possibility of designating an official from outside the military who would focus on economic and political reconstruction issues. That person, some officials said, should be someone outside the administration who commands international respect.

    When conditions are sufficiently calm, international relief agencies would be invited into Iraq to help deal with potential refugee flows and food shortages. As part of what the administration views as a second phase in its postwar blueprint, the United States also would attempt, as soon as possible, to transfer considerable authority to an international civilian leadership, whose makeup and chain of command remains undecided, officials said.

    Planners are struggling to balance interests. U.S. officials believe a dominant performance in the early weeks is essential to deter trouble and demonstrate the tangible benefits of ousting Hussein. Some also hope that incorporating civilians early and making a quick transition to an international authority will soften the perception of the U.S. military as an occupying force.

    "We would want to internationalize it to the greatest extent possible because there's going to be a lot of work to be done. We want everyone who can make a contribution to be involved," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in an interview. He added that the United Nations and European Union would likely play roles in the aftermath of any conflict. "Even if the military operation was conducted outside of a U.N. mandate, I think the U.N. would want to play a role."

    Administration officials said final decisions on the post-Hussein landscape would depend on when and how the Iraqi leader falls -- and whether a credible leader rises in his place, for example, before U.S. troops are on the ground. Top administration officials emphasized that Bush has made no final choices about governing Iraq, in large part because the outcome of the current standoff remains so uncertain.

    In one example, although the administration has declared its intention to put Hussein on trial for war crimes, Powell said the Iraqi leader likely would be permitted to leave the country with his sons and family if the move averted war. "Will the international system of jurisprudence follow him?" Powell said. "I'm not prepared to give an answer to that question right now."

    If the confrontation leads to war, the administration would bear considerable responsibility for the Iraqi population and the ensuing events.

    U.S. planners are paying significant attention to preserving the vast U.N. distribution network of food and medicine under the U.N. oil-for-food program under which revenues from Iraqi oil sales are channeled to food and other basic humanitarian needs. The United Nations has said the program, which reaches an estimated 60 percent of the Iraqi population, would be disrupted if hostilities break out. The administration has begun to ship extra food and humanitarian supplies to the region in case of war.

    Military commanders expect to handle humanitarian relief operations for several months and will work to clear roads, repair bridges and get water and electricity flowing. In a bid for speedy results, work would begin in some parts of the country even before other regions were under U.S. control, a Pentagon official said.

    To guard against the partition of Iraq -- as well as a last-ditch strike by Hussein's forces -- U.S. commanders expect to maintain a show of force in both the Kurdish-dominated north and the Shiite Muslim-populated south. Turkey has expressed particular fear about a possible Kurdish move to create an independent state on Turkey's border, while the Kurds worry that Turkey will sweep into a power vacuum and seize territory.

    U.S. officials have assured Turkish authorities that American troops plan to secure the key northern Iraq cities of Mosul and Kirkuk in the event of war. "We're actually optimistic that trouble can be avoided," a senior administration official said. "We've talked at length to both the Turks and the Kurds, and everyone is aware of each other's red lines."

    Among the key roles for U.S. forces would be the preservation of Iraq's borders against any sudden claims by neighbors and the defense of the country's oil fields. Oil revenue is considered the primary source of funds for Iraq's reconstruction, and the proceeds of the oil trade are seen as the glue most likely to hold the country's communities together.

    Discussions have begun, with no conclusions yet, about who would run the oil business during the early postwar period and who would represent Iraq at meetings of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. A senior State Department official said the administration is committed to an "equal opportunity approach" to the development of Iraq and its oil industry.

    As the administration now sees it, the role of Iraqis in governing their country would grow as time passed and institutions became stronger. A consultative committee, composed of Iraqis inside Iraq and returning exiles, would be expected to grow in importance, perhaps yielding to an assembly empowered to draft a constitution and prepare for local and national elections.

    © 2003 The Washington Post Company

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