Debate heats up over the rebuilding of Iraq
Criticism follows plans to rebuild
By Marcella Bombardieri and Elizabeth Neuffer, Globe Staff, 04/10/2003
KUWAIT CITY -- With Saddam Hussein's regime all but vanished, the de facto ruler of Iraq is now a retired Army general, Jay Garner, who is best known for helping to feed Kurdish refugees after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Yet even before Garner sets foot in Iraq, controversy is swirling around his Pentagon-led team, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
From Germany to Pakistan, world leaders have called for the United Nations, not the Pentagon, to take charge of rebuilding Iraq. That move, they say, will give the country's new government greater independence and legitimacy.
And the "Garner Group," as it is dubbed, has been criticized by Iraqi opposition leaders and international humanitarian aid workers for wrapping a Pentagon-like secrecy around its plans that seemingly put Americans, not Iraqis, in charge.
"It is not a very workable solution for General Garner to be the political leader of Iraq even for a short time," said Faisal Chalabi, a Kuwait-based spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, one of the opposition groups most closely allied with the Pentagon's plans. "We believe democracy cannot be imposed on Iraqis by others." His uncle, Ahmad Chalabi, who heads the national congress, asked in a CNN interview from Iraq: `'Where is General Garner now?"
Sharif Ali Bin Al Hussein, of the London-based Constitutional Monarchy Movement, said: "We envision a role where Garner is helping Iraqis rebuild, not the other way around."
Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage promised "the beginning of a transparent process." Garner and his team are expected to begin meeting with Iraqis when they arrive in the country this week.
That is little consolation to those infuriated at the fact that Garner, who reports to the Central Command chief, General Tommy R. Franks, has yet to speak publicly about his vision for Iraq's governance.
"General Garner has not discussed his plans with the humanitarian community, or revealed them to Congress," said Kenneth Bacon, former Pentagon spokesman and now head of Refugees International, an advocacy group in Washington. "What should be an open and well-understood operation is secretive and possibly confused."
Several former US military officials say they did not see much in Garner's background that would equip him for the challenges of overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq.
Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance officials concede there's secrecy. This reflects the fact, one said, that "a lot of this is planning in the air."
Some locals paint a different picture, one of a team out of touch with Iraq's needs. So few of the 200 to 300 members of the team have left the Hilton compound in Kuwait it is dubbed "Guantanamo for rich people."
One team member, who met with Iraqis during a recent visit to Umm Qasr, seemed surprised that people there "just want water and food" and "don't want to listen to our long-term plans."
Yet Garner's team says it has to keep a certain distance, especially from Iraqi exiles. "A lot of groups contact us, but they want to give us one little piece of information and then they expect us to make them the king of something or other," one official said.
Not all the feedback is negative.
"These people have done similar work in Kosovo, in northern Iraq, and Afghanistan, and they bring good experience with them," said Ahmad Bishara, head of the Kuwait National Democratic Movement, who has had meetings with members of Garner's staff.
Garner's mandate is to coordinate military assistance, rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, and start the process of democratic elections. About 20 engineers, logisticians, security specialists, and specialists in water, food, and other humanitarian aid have arrived in Umm Qasr. Overseen by retired General Buck Walters, they will eventually move to Basra to oversee all of southern iraq.
The central region -- including Baghdad -- is to be overseen by former ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine. Bruce Moore, another retired general who worked with Garner on Operation Provide Comfort for the Kurds, will be responsible for northern Iraq.
Leaders have also been appointed for each of the group's "three pillars" -- for reconstruction, USAID veteran Lewis Lucke; for humanitarian assistance, former Marine and ambassador to Namibia George Ward; and for civil administration, Pentagon adviser Michael Mobbs.
Garner intends to install civilian advisers to oversee Iraq's ministries.
Armitage said yesterday Garner will seek to turn over many of Iraq's 23 government ministries to Iraqis as soon as possible.
The former US general has talked to his staff about finishing the mission in 90 to 120 days. But those experienced in postwar reconstruction say such a time frame is unrealistic.
Some, who remember how US troops stood by as Sarajevo's suburbs were torched in 1996 in the wake of the Dayton peace deal, suggest war, not reconstruction, is the Pentagon's strength.
"They should leave reconstruction to the UN, which has years of experience with this," said Peter Galbraith, who was part of the UN transitional administration in East Timor and is now at the National War College.