US begins the process of 'regime change'
Ed Vulliamy in New York and Kamal Ahmed
Sunday April 6, 2003
The US is ready to install the first leg of an interim government for the new Iraq as early as Tuesday, even while fighting still rages in Baghdad, officials said yesterday.
America's readiness to establish the first stages of a civil administration to run post-war Iraq comes at lightning speed and constitutes a rebuff to European ambitions to stall on the process until some kind of role for the United Nations is agreed.
It was reported yesterday that the National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has also ruled out any key role for the UN.
The decision to proceed with an embryonic government comes in response to memoranda written by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week, urging that the US begin to entrench its authority in areas under its control before the war is over.
Pentagon officials told The Observer that the administration is determined to impose the Rumsfeld plan and sees no use for a UN role, describing the international body as 'irrelevant'.
The proposal is due to be discussed by George Bush and his closest security officials when he returns from this week's Northern Ireland war council with Tony Blair.
But according to US offi cials in Doha, elements of an embryonic new government will be established in the southern port of Umm Qasr, taken by coalition forces during the first days of the war.
It will be installed by the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, under the former US army Lieutenant General Jay Garner, and answerable to the Pentagon.
'What we are going to start trying to do, even before the fighting is over in Iraq, is to move to the areas in Iraq that are relatively peaceful, places like Umm Qasr, and to start moving [the office of reconstruction] into Iraq,' the official said. 'It is a fair assessment to say that this is the first step to set up a civil administration in Iraq.'
The decision is a rebuff to European diplomats who pleaded with US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday to allow for a UN role.
By brushing the UN aside at such an early stage, the move also places Tony Blair - whose own preference is for a UN role - in a difficult situation ahead of his meeting with Bush this week.
Rumsfeld presented two memoranda to the White House last week, urging the President to begin setting up government institutions in areas under US control. He said the new organs could install Iraqis returning from exile under the tutelage of American civilians answerable to General Garner.
But his plan has been opposed even within the administration. Colin Powell is known to favour a military government established after victory is assured, prepared to nurture an Iraqi government centred around citizens resident in Iraq, rather than exiles sponsored by neo-conservatives in the Pentagon.
General Garner is already set to make his media debut in Kuwait tomorrow as the man whom the US has named to be Iraq's temporary post-war civilian administrator.
The US viceroy of the Southern region will be retired General Buck Walters; one of three governors slated to minister the new Iraqi provinces.
The others are General Bruce Moore in the largely Kurdish north and former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine based in Baghdad, governing the central region.