CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq -- The head of the U.S. military's Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks, will control Iraq in the initial aftermath of a U.S. invasion to overthrow President Saddam Hussein.
Administration officials briefed senators this week on postwar planning, stressing that the U.S. goal is "to liberate Iraq, not to occupy it," and last week a U.S. envoy told leaders of Iraqi groups opposed to Saddam about American intentions.
The senators were told that even under good circumstances, it would take two years before the military could fully transfer control to an Iraqi government. As presented, the plan recalls postwar Germany and Japan, where American military occupations paved the way for transfers of power to democratic and constitutionally backed governments.
Some Iraqi opposition leaders are already attacking the plan, saying it amounts to a U.S. military rule of Iraq that will favor the power structure in the country. Instead of turning Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, an ambition articulated by some U.S. policy-makers, the opposition leaders say the U.S. plan seems designed to ease the fears of Arabs and Turks unhappy with the prospect of a democratic, federal Iraq.
But Barham Salih, prime minister of an enclave in northern Iraq controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, advises a pragmatic view of the U.S. plan. "Let's not get too hot about this," he said late Tuesday in an interview at his home here. "Who is doing the heavy lifting?"
The answer is, of course, the United States, and Salih's implication is that shouldering the big load brings with it a few prerogatives. He maintains an eyes-on-the-prize approach to the debate over how to run Iraq's affairs immediately after the current leader is removed. "The key thing for us is getting rid of Saddam Hussein."
Some elements of Iraq's fractious opposition, including groups funded by the United States, have been determined to form a government-in-waiting in order to ensure that Iraq's sovereignty stays in Iraqi hands. They argue that Iraqis will see even a temporary U.S. administration of Iraq as occupation, engendering anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East.
Even so, the United States has decided to run the country itself, although the structure outlined to Congress and the opposition groups envisions a "consultative council" of Iraqis selected by the United States to advise American administrators.
"To be kind, it is unworkable. Either reason will prevail, or time will demonstrate to the authors [of the U.S. plan] the error of their ways," said Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi. "I really shudder to think."
A U.S. civilian coordinator, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, is already presiding over committees of U.S. bureaucrats preparing to address humanitarian relief, reconstruction and civil administration -- all part of a planning effort authorized by President Bush on Jan. 20. Franks retains overall responsibility for a war and its aftermath.
Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that "Central [Iraqi] government ministries could remain in place and perform the key functions of government after the vetting of the top personnel to remove any who might be tainted with the crimes and excesses of the current regime."
This formula sounds to some Iraqi opposition leaders as though much of Iraq's existing power structure, dominated by Saddam's ruling Baath Party, will maintain its role. "Power is being handed, essentially on a platter, to the second echelon of the Baath Party and the [Iraqi] Army officer corps," said Kanan Makiya, an adviser to Chalabi who discussed postwar Iraq with President Bush on Jan. 10. "It's going to have the opposite effect to what U.S. wants it to have," he added.
The U.S. plan also imagines, in Feith's words, a "Constitutional commission ... to draft a new Constitution and submit it to the Iraqi people for ratification."
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy to the Iraqi opposition, briefed leaders of three groups opposed to Saddam about the plan in Ankara, Turkey, last week. In interviews here, Chalabi and Makiya said they were unable to attend because the United States gave them just 18 hours' notice, but added that they have been told about the discussions from opposition figures who participated.
Khalilzad met with the two Kurdish parties -- the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the PUK -- that administer areas of northern Iraq outside Saddam's control. A leader of the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which represents major elements of the country's Shiite community, also took part in the Ankara meetings.
Both Kurds and Shiites rebelled unsuccessfully against Saddam after the Gulf War, thinking the United States would defend them. Instead the United States stood back as Saddam crushed the uprisings. But for more than a decade, U.S. and British warplanes have kept Iraqi planes from flying over both areas, a limitation that has offered Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiites in the south some protection from Saddam's military.
The Kurds and Shiites are important to the United States, in part because both have men under arms. But they are also groups that may pose complexities.
Long disenfranchised by Saddam, despite their majority status, the Shiites want to see a more just distribution of power in a new Iraq.