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Friday, March 14

Bush administration split over role for other countries in postwar Iraq

By Jon Frandsen

WASHINGTON - Multinational involvement in the effort to rebuild Iraq after a war could be a crucial factor in successfully stabilizing the country and region, but the Bush administration is divided over how much authority to share, members of Congress and diplomatic observers say.

The task of keeping the Iraqi people safe and cared for in the aftermath of war and then beginning the long and difficult path toward making Iraq a stable and democratic country in the volatile region is regarded as far trickier than invasion and victory.

But even though war seems imminent, Washington is struggling with some basic decisions:

Who will run relief programs? How will oil wells be kept secure and operating? How will oil revenues be used? How will Iraqis be incorporated into a transitional government? Will they be exiles or people from within the country and how will different ethnic groups be represented?

Critics fear that delays in planning could make the postwar period far more difficult and volatile.

Administration defenders say considerable progress has been made in secret and that there are so many variables that many decisions simply cannot be made until the United States begins to take control of the country.

There is broad agreement across the board, however, that failure to ``win the peace'' could have enormous and lasting consequences for both the region and the United States.

Whether the United States is ``seen as a city shining on the hill ... or as a new imperial power depends upon the effectiveness with which we carry out phase two of this operation,'' warned former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who served under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.Schlesinger, a respected and reliably hawkish Republican voice on military and foreign policy, and longtime Democratic adviser Thomas Pickering led a bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations task force that made recommendations on steps needed to make the occupation of Iraq successful.

The task force, some members of the administration and numerous lawmakers believe that success hinges upon broad international involvement in reconstruction.

Still a global affair

The immediate concern of the task force, humanitarian groups and members of Congress is acting quickly, because the United Nations Security Council's discord over whether to have war at all has kept potential partners from cooperating.

Contributions to U.N. agencies that would help direct and carry out relief efforts ``have been chilled'' by the debate over the war, the International Rescue League's Sandra Mitchell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently.

``I think about 30 to 40 percent of the U.N.'s pleas for humanitarian contingency funding has been met at this point. That is all,'' Mitchell said.

There have been no donations to non-U.N. groups from ``the British government, from the European Union or from other traditional donors in Europe,'' she added. ``That may change in the event that action begins, but we're very far behind right now.''

Relief efforts are just one aspect of reconstruction planning - and one of the least controversial.

Dealing with the thornier issues of sharing responsibility and authority for reconstruction means repairing relationships damaged by the ongoing debate.

``It makes it much more complex because in the event that parties seriously disagree at the Security Council level and other levels, there will need to be a period of reconciliation and of finding each other again,'' said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

Pickering said he thought concerns over postwar cooperation ``are somewhat overblown'' and pointed to how quickly Russia came to help in the Balkans, despite blocking U.N. support for an attack on Serbia after Serb aggression against ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo.

Russia is also one of the Security Council nations threatening to block support for a war on Iraq.

Power sharing

Much of the diplomatic discord in New York has been caused by widespread sentiment that the United States is all too willing to use its military power unilaterally to further its own interests, despite broad opposition. Those suspicions would be heightened, especially in the Muslim world, if the United States is seen as the sole authority in a postwar Iraq.

That concern, along with sharing costs and drawing on the expertise of international agencies, is why a cooperative international coalition in postwar Iraq is seen as imperative by many.

The possible consequences of alienating the Iraqi people, inflaming fundamentalist Muslims in the region or allowing ethnic disputes to broaden into a civil war or conflicts that threaten Iraq's borders would be severe. The risks of any of those events occurring are limited through careful planning and global involvement.

Moving quickly to involve international organizations ``will lighten the load on U.S. military and civilian personnel, and help to diminish the impression that the United States seeks to control post-transition Iraq,'' the task force report said. ``The Bush administration will likely be reluctant, especially early in the transition process, to sacrifice `unity of command.' On the other hand, other governments may be hesitant to participate in activities in which they have little responsibility.''

There has already been quiet discussion by some to put the reconstruction operation - which the task force conservatively estimates will cost $20 billion annually for several years - under U.N. control. The administration is almost certain to reject such a plan.

The solution, the task force suggested, is for the United States to seek U.N. endorsement of U.S. leadership over administration of Iraq that also makes room for ``meaningful international participation and the sharing of responsibility for decision-making in important areas.''

While the State Department and members of Bush's National Security Council are said to be leaning in favor of such an arrangement, there is resistance from the most hawkish members of the president's team.

 ``I think there are differences and I think they will be ironed out,'' Schlesinger said. ``It is plain that there are some who have focused primarily upon the military problem of ridding themselves of Saddam Hussein and have not recognized the responsibility for creating a prosperous Iraq, and hopefully down the road, a democratic society.''