Iraqi Shadow Government Cools Its Heels in Kuwait
By Jane Perlez
NYTimes, 3 April - KUWAIT, April 2 — Along a promenade of beachside villas, several hundred American government officials — from well-worn former generals to fresh young aid workers — are working at their laptops, inventing flow charts and examining maps of Iraq in what has become Potomac on the Persian Gulf.
This is the nucleus of the Bush administration's new Iraqi government. One of the faraway masters, in the minds of many here, is someone known fondly, or not so fondly — depending on one's political orientation — as Wolfowitz of Arabia.
The reference, of course, is to Paul D. Wolfowitz, the undersecretary of defense, who has dispatched some of his protégés here to prepare key Baghdad ministries for American management.
Mr. Wolfowitz is also passing judgment on others assigned here, making the transitory Potomac here as divisive and political as the permanent one at home, some participants say.
The overall boss of this Iraqi government-in-waiting, an operation that has been endowed with the Washington-speak title "Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance," is retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. When he gets to Baghdad, he will be in charge of everything the American military is not: feeding the country, fixing the infrastructure and creating what the Bush administration has said will be a democratic government.
A stocky 64-year-old, on leave from a top post at the defense contractor L-3 Communications, General Garner was responsible for protecting Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq after the first gulf war, a smaller task than the one at hand but one that gave him a taste for the country, a colleague said.
Arrayed below General Garner is a group of former army officers, former and present American ambassadors, aid bureaucrats who give themselves away by their many-pocketed khaki jackets, a smattering of State Department officials, several British officials and a cluster known as the "true believers."
These are the people, like Robert Reilly, a former head of the Voice of America, who in the shorthand for Mr. Wolfowitz are known as "Wolfie's" people. They are thought to be particularly fervent about trying to remake Iraq as a beacon of democracy and a country with a tilt toward Israel. Mr. Reilly is working with Iraqi exiles to create radio broadcasts for use in the post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
General Garner reports to the chief of Central Command, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, a fact that makes the civilian government-in-waiting an operation of the Pentagon.
Fairly predictably, State Department officials say, the Pentagon deemed the most senior State Department appointees as unsuitable for the enterprise, even though one of them, Timothy Carney, a former ambassador to Sudan, was invited to come here by Mr. Wolfowitz.
Mr. Carney is preparing to run the Baghdad Ministry of Industry. Another person the Pentagon is resisting, at least temporarily, is the former ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine. But she has also arrived, established an office in one of the villas, and is informally known on the campus as the mayor of Baghdad.
Others who have been held up back in Washington include Robin Raphel, former ambassador to Tunisia, who is slated to run the Ministry of Trade; and Kenton Keith, a former ambassador to Qatar, who is supposed to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Not all the 23 ministries in the present Iraqi government will be reopened, a member of the Garner team said. The all-important Ministry of Information will definitely be kept, although who will run it remains unresolved. James Woolsey, a former director of Central Intelligence in the Clinton administration, is a favorite of the Pentagon for that job, people here said.
The politics of the Potomac aside, some of the officials acknowledge they have been handed complex jobs, the real complexity of which will not be known until they know how the war ends.
If there is a surrender by the Iraqi forces and Saddam Hussein is toppled, their jobs will be easier, they say. There could be a messier ending: perhaps some kind of festering war, with outbursts of urban fighting, that would make the Americans' jobs much more precarious.
Another complexity is the role of the Iraqi exile groups that the Bush administration has been courting.
The State Department and the Pentagon hold profound differences on this question, and advocates in the administration say, a definition of the role of the exiles still awaits a decision by President Bush and his senior foreign policy advisers.
Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, has made it clear that he would not be satisfied with just an advisory position. The State Department has made clear it would prefer a diminished role for Mr. Chalabi. In recent days Mr. Chalabi has said through spokesmen that he wants the formation of a provisional government in which he would be a leading figure. In this he has backing in the Pentagon.
"The decision on the new political class in Iraq is very hot. It has yet to be made in Washington," said one member of the Garner team here.
Only slightly less controversial is the role the United Nations will play in Baghdad. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said in the House of Commons today that the U.N. must have a pre-eminent role in post-Saddam Iraq. The State Department would also like a U.N. presence as a way of easing the anger in Europe and elsewhere toward the American-led military action. The Pentagon is less keen.
The mantra here is that every effort should be made to find what one person called the "good Iraqis" in the ministries — probably those one echelon below the avid Baath Party members — and encourage them to step into responsible roles.
At a meeting with Kuwaiti academics and businessmen last week, General Garner said he would measure his success by how quickly he could hand over authority to Iraqis.
But the longer the war grinds on, the harder it will be for the Americans to find enthusiastic Iraqis, a State Deparmtent official said. "The original idea was that we would be slipping in with fast evaluations and liaising with the technocrats who were left," the official said. "The longer this goes on the more problematic that assumption is."
Many of the officials here rushed to Kuwait City in the belief they would be sent almost immediately to Baghdad. Now that the war has gone longer than they were led to expect, there is a lot of cooling of heels, and time for reading. Few of these people are Iraqi experts. But some have come armed with books and articles on the history of Iraq. The chapters on the mistakes of British rule are well underlined.
General Garner visited Iraq for the first time Tuesday, touring Umm Qasr, the town and port controlled by British forces. But the first launching of American civilians will be through the north, where there has been little fighting. A group of aid workers from the Agency for International Development now positioned in Turkey are likely to travel down to the Kurdish areas where there has been virtually no fighting. That leaves the team assembled here on the beach beside the Persian Gulf still waiting their turn.