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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Friday, April 11

Prewar foes are at odds over postwar plans for Iraq

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - How little the war in Iraq has changed some things.

Virtually every major player in the prewar debate that tore the United Nations Security Council apart and brought Bush administration titans nose to nose is back mixing it up with the same opponent over how to handle postwar Iraq.

The French, Germans and Russians - who opposed the war - are now unhappy with U.S. plans to run the postwar show and are meeting this weekend in Russia to discuss it.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who locked horns going into the war, are at odds over who should staff the postwar team: Powell's moderates or Rumsfeld's hard-liners.

Not to be left out, Iraq's tribal factions are feuding among themselves over control of the country while the nervous neighboring Turkey looks on wondering if it might have to send in troops to guard its interests.

If Iraq seems chaotic in war, it promises to be all the more so in peace. "Iraq is like the Balkans where you have a lot of people who just don't want to live in the same state,'' said James Dobbins, a former U.S. ambassador who supervised postwar rebuilding in Afghanistan.

It's a wonder that so many interests want to play a prominent role in Iraq. But then who wants to sit on the sidelines while history is being made?

Once the shooting stops, the United States will for the first time occupy an Arab state in what could be the beginning of democracy in a land of autocrats or a clash of civilizations.

Initial responsibility for running Iraq will rest with a civilian team led by retired U.S. Army Gen. Jay Garner. Eager to avoid any appearance as an occupier, U.S. officials want to transfer power to an interim Iraqi authority as soon as possible, perhaps within a few months.

Critics of the plan believe it will go wrong the very moment the war ends.

U.S. vs. Europe

Some leading members of the United Nations - the above mentioned France, Germany and Russia - contend the international agency should oversee postwar Iraq's transition to self-governance rather than the United States.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to visit Britain, France, Germany and Russia to determine whether the Security Council might be able to agree on a postwar plan.

Much of that plan may prove academic.

The Bush administration has flatly turned down the idea of a U.N.-run reconstruction, noting that the United States and Britain fought Saddam Hussein with their blood and money.

Administration officials, however, have said they are eager for international help, especially to restore order and deliver much-needed humanitarian aid.

Even though Germany and possibly other opponents of the war appear willing to help regardless of who runs the plan, critics of the Bush approach believe it's doomed to isolate the United States.

"Unilateralism on steroids'' is how Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, described it.

To be sure, the future relevancy of the United Nations as a force in collective diplomacy is at stake here.

Before the war, Bush challenged the Security Council to back its demand that Saddam disarm or face ``serious consequences.''

The council refused, and the war ensued.

Powell vs. Rumsfeld

"It's a tempest in a teapot.''

That's how Rumsfeld described his debate with Powell over who should head Iraq's interim authority.

Pentagon advisers have been promoting Iraqi exiles led by Ahmed Chalabi, a successful 58-year-old London businessman whom they view as a reliable ally.

Powell favors waiting to see who emerges in Iraq once the dust settles. His concern - backed by the CIA - is that a cast selected by the United States would start out with anemic credibility that would only drop from there.

What's more, the Powell camp points out that Chalabi left Iraq in 1958, a decade before Saddam's Baath Party took power, and has not been back since.

Chalabi is jockeying aggressively, but it appears as if Powell is going to win this one.

Bush has apparently agreed that parachuting in outsiders doesn't look good.

Powell has chalked up a few smaller victories as well, securing slots for some of his star diplomats on Garner's team of roughly 200 who will take the reins in Iraq any day now.

Six of Powell's picks were rejected by the Pentagon, but the administration overruled.

Some of these diplomats are expected to become "senior ministerial advisers'' to the government in Baghdad.

Iraqis vs. Iraqis

Worse than a foundering government in a post-Saddam Iraq is a scenario where there is no Iraq.

The fear that the country will Balkanize along old tribal lines now that the despotic glue of the old regime has dissolved pervades the Middle East.

Concern is especially acute among Iraq's neighbors, such as Jordan and Turkey, who face the prospect of massive refugee flows and having to police ancient rivalries once U.S. forces leave Iraq.

"The populations of Iraq are bound by the regime there - not the state," Labib Kamhawi, a well-known Jordanian political analyst wrote. "Take away the regime, and there goes the country."

The Bush war plan forbids that, but it's up against powerful ancient forces.

The Kurds, Saddam's tribal enemies in northern Iraq, present the most volatile problem because of their passionate desire for autonomy from Baghdad. That could foment a violent separatist rebellion among neighboring Turkish Kurds and a harsh response by their government.

The Shiites in southern Iraq are also a turbulent force.

Many Arab countries are suspicious of any potential Shiite Muslim government forming that might identify too closely with the Shiites in Iran and bolster its radical mullahs. But Shiites are a 60 percent majority in Iraq.

"Any solution for Iraq absolutely must be coordinated with the Shi's (Shiites),'' said Aziz Al-Taee, chairman of the Iraqi-American Council.

Their adversaries, Iraq's Sunni Muslims, are sure to have something to say about that.

War has changed nothing in that relationship.