U.S. Officials Weigh Post-War Iraq Leadership, Planning

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz warned Sunday that a transition from Saddam Hussein’s regime and an Iraqi self-rule government would not take place overnight.

“Six months is what happened in northern Iraq. This is a more complicated situation. It will take more than that,” Wolfowitz said on Fox News Sunday.

The deputy secretary added that President Bush and his coalition partners, including Britain’s Tony Blair, had already begun discussing with Iraqi opposition how an interim authority “would be the bridge from a coalition administration to an eventual Iraqi government.”

American officials have stressed that the U.S. role would only be to provide stability and security as Iraq established a more permanent government.

“The people of Iraq are perfectly capable of running Iraq,” President Bush said on Friday. “The U.S. will help in a transition.”

But many average Arabs are expressing doubt that the U.S. will allow Iraq to determine its own future.

“They [the Americans] are going to stay for ages,” Andrea, a 24-year-old graphic designer in Beirut, told Reuters. “They’re not going to go through all of this just to make the world better for the Iraqis and then toddle off back to the United States. They have too many interests here.”

With much of the attention focused on the plans between the end of the war and the beginning of a new Iraqi regime, the roles for the United Nations and the coalition continue to be debated.

The Pentagon has established the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which is preparing within days to begin operations in the southern Iraq port city of Umm Qasr. The ORHA, headed by retired U.S. General Jay Garner, will report to Central Command’s leader General Tommy Franks, and is intended to organize reconstruction and humanitarian efforts.

Some Iraqi opposition groups have expressed concern that Garner may play too much of a role in planning a post-Saddam Iraq.

“We reject replacing one dictator [Saddam Hussein] with another dictator [Garner]. We want a government run by Iraqis,” Latif Rashid, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), told Reuters Sunday.

Others, like France and Germany, have said they back the United Nations assuming civilian authority.

Wolfowitz told Fox the U.N. could play a pivotal role in the interim period, but stressed the goal of any effort had to be Iraqi-self governance.

“The U.N. can be a mechanism for bringing that assistance to the Iraqi people … but our goal has to be to transfer authority and operations of a government as quickly as possible, not to some other external authority but to the Iraqi people,” he said.

Even as opposition and coalition leaders discussed who might serve in an interim administration, one of the leaders of the exiled Iraqi opposition was arriving back in Iraq.

According to ABC News, U.S. military forces have initiated a massive airlift mission to return Ahmed Chalabi, a former banker and head of the Iraqi National Congress, and 1,000 Iraqi opposition fighters to southern Iraq.

This group, headed by the Shiite Chalabi who left Iraq in 1956, is meant to help unify Shia opposition and aid U.S. efforts to combat pockets of resistance.

With the battle for Baghdad apparently ongoing and so many unanswered questions facing an interim administration, the future of Iraq is at the top of the agenda for Monday’s summit in Northern Ireland between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair.

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