US to finance early postwar Iraqi regime, officials say
By Robert Schlesinger, Globe Staff, 03/12/2003
WASHINGTON -- The United States plans to finance the Iraqi government and military in the first months after removing Saddam Hussein from power, employing Iraqi soldiers to help rebuild the country, Defense Department officials said yesterday.
Two senior defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, provided the most extensive glimpse yet of US plans for rebuilding Iraq. The blueprint focuses on maintaining order and stability by trying to avoid having large numbers of unemployed residents in the country.
The officials described the plans as an initial phase lasting a few months until an international administrator or an organization such as the United Nations could be found to take over the transition. The officials said that the source of financing for the reconstruction -- from repairing infrastructure to paying the wages of bureaucrats and soldiers -- has not been determined, and they declined to attach a dollar total to the project.
"It is likely that you're going to have a number of people who are doing things," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said. "They may be government officials running ministries that provide water and food and things for people. And a judgment will have to be made at some point as to what portions of those people ought to be kept in place."
Two experts on Iraq -- Eric Schwartz of the Council on Foreign Relations and Gordon Adams of George Washington University -- told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the rebuilding effort could cost between $20 billion and $51 billion in the first year alone.
President Bush in January created the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, headed by retired Army General Jay Garner, to coordinate US plans for rebuilding Iraq. His staff has grown to 180 people.
If the United States succeeds in ousting Hussein, Garner would become the country's civil administrator, reporting to General Tommy Franks, who would direct the US-led coalition of forces. Garner would oversee a half-dozen functional and regional coordinators responsible for such activities as de-mining and infrastructure repair as well as work by the US Agency for International Development, officials said.
Defense Department planners said they will try to enlist regular Iraqi soldiers -- as opposed to the elite Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard who are considered more loyal to Hussein -- to aid the postwar effort through road and bridge construction, rubble removal, construction, and related work.
"They can help rebuild their own country," the first senior defense official said. "Using the army allows us not to demobilize it immediately and put a lot of unemployed people on the street."
The official also said that as rebuilding work is contracted, the US would try to ensure that Iraqi subcontractors are hired, to "begin a process of economic development, and . . . for more jobs." The United States is expected to award a massive reconstruction contract in coming days, for which several US construction giants are expected to bid.
The new reconstruction office has started hiring Iraqi expatriates who would either go back to their home provinces -- with the exception of Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq -- or go to individual ministries to help with a transition to a democratic government.
"They understand the democratic process," the senior defense official said. "And as we use them to facilitate what's going on, we think that's a good recipe -- to have people that were born and raised in those provinces but now have lived in a democracy. And they can explain things to the people there, who have been oppressed for the last 30 years or so."
US officials also said they have been studying the Iraqi pay scale and trying to determine how much the approximately 2 million bureaucrats there and 300,000 soldiers should receive under a new regime. The source of that financing has yet to be determined, but officials are considering using frozen Iraqi assets, which total $1.7 billion, and money the United Nations is holding from oil sales that are being used for humanitarian assistance. Rumsfeld said there is $10 billion to $12 billion in that fund.
But Pentagon officials said 60 percent of Iraqi residents depend on that UN program for food.
"You can't shut it down and turn that revenue in some other direction, even if it's all for the Iraqi people," the second senior defense official said. "But as you go forward, then, you know, the natural resources of the country begin to kick in."
At the Senate hearing, committee chairman Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and other lawmakers said they were frustrated by the lack of information about Iraqi reconstruction coming from the administration.
They noted that Garner canceled a scheduled appearance before the committee yesterday.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Robert Schlesinger can be reached at email@example.com