New Iraqi Council, New Top U.S. Administrator Expected

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner said, ”By the middle of the month, you’ll really see a beginning of a nucleus of an Iraqi government with an Iraqi face on it that is dealing with the coalition.”

The Iraqi council is expected to include five Iraqi leaders who have met several times to plan the new government. They include: Massoud Barzani with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Ahmad Chalabi with the Iraqi National Congress, Jalal Talabani with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Iyad Allawi with the Iraqi National Accord and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim with the Shiite group Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The council will work with the U.S. team in the region, which has been led by Garner, who is in charge of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid, or ORHA. However, the Bush administration has chosen a former diplomat, L. Paul Bremer III, as the top civil administrator for the region, placing him above Garner.

The change in leadership appears to be a win for the State Department in the ongoing foreign policy debate between the diplomatic agency and the Defense Department. The Bush administration was under pressure to replace Garner because international allies were reluctant to participate in a Pentagon-led reconstruction.

Bremer, who served 23 years with the State Department, is the former head of the department’s counterterrorism office. He was also chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism, which was created in 1998 to make recommendations on combating international terrorism.

There was some confusion in the announcement of Bremer’s appointment, with the first reports of the change in leadership coming last week from a Bush administration official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Garner said today that the new top position was always in U.S. plans and that he wanted a smaller role in political negotiations.

“I’ll stay a while. There’s got to be a good handoff,” he said.

When Bremer arrives in Iraq next week, he will face postwar unrest that has resulted in deaths of anti-American demonstrators. Some 125,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, trying to maintain control as skirmishes with hostile Iraqis continue.

A U.S. soldier was wounded Friday by shrapnel when a patrol exchanged fire with gunmen in Baghdad. And in Najaf, gunmen shot automatic weapons and threw hand grenades outside the city’s central shrine. Two men arrested in that incident are suspects in the murder of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, an Islamic cleric who was hacked to death at the same shrine last month.

Thursday in Fallujah, a Baath Party stronghold 30 miles west of Baghdad, seven U.S. soldiers were injured by a grenade thrown into their compound. American troops killed 18 Iraqis in two incidents there earlier in the week.

In Tikrit Wednesday, U.S. Apache helicopters opened fire on a group of Iraqis, killing 14 paramilitary fighters who were trying to steal ammunition. In another incident Wednesday near the town of Kut, U.S. troops shot and killed an Iraqi man when he tried to run over two Marines at a checkpoint.

Restoring basic services may help ease some tensions, and Garner said Monday that electricity in Baghdad is running at 50 percent capacity. Restoring full service was a priority with the approach of summer.

“The month of May is a key month for getting all the public services stood up or at least with a good prospect of being stood up and getting the law enforcement system back,” he said.

Garner said Iraq’s infrastructure was in better condition than prewar planners anticipated. “We started with a glass more half-full than we expected.”

In another change in the U.S. reconstruction team, officials announced the creation of a southeast regional office, adding to the ORHA’s original three regions.

Ole Wohlers Olsen, a Danish diplomat, is the new southeast regional coordinator, overseeing an area with a large Shiite population.

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