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Rebuilding Iraq


Envoys clash over competing visions of postwar Iraq

By Elizabeth Neuffer, Globe Staff, 03/28/2003

UNITED NATIONS -- As fighting rages between allied troops and Saddam Hussein's forces for military control of Iraq, world leaders are waging their own diplomatic war over whether the United States -- or the United Nations -- should be in charge of Iraq's postwar reconstruction.

Such countries as France and Germany are demanding that the United Nations play a central role in governing and rebuilding postwar Iraq. "The UN must be at the heart of the reconstruction and administration of Iraq," said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin in a speech in London yesterday.

But the United States, while it says the United Nations will have an important role, is making it clear Washington will have the controlling hand -- administering Iraq until its people take charge. To that aim, the Pentagon in January created the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, headed by retired general Jay Garner, who is already on the ground in Kuwait.

"We didn't take on this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have a significant dominating control over how it unfolds in the future," US Secretary of State Colin Powell told a House of Representatives subcommittee on Tuesday.

Yesterday, in fact, Iraq's UN ambassador accused the United States of planning to carry out such domination as early as 1997, part of a campaign "to exterminate the Iraqi people." That prompted US Ambassador John D. Negroponte to walk out of a debate on the Iraqi war. "I don't accept any of the allegations," Negroponte said.

At issue in this diplomatic battle: sweeping questions of Iraq's sovereignty, America's standing in the eyes of nations opposed to war, and the UN's future.

Also at stake is who will control billions of dollars in lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq -- not to mention oil development. UN diplomats note bitterly in private that contracts already have been given to a subsidiary of the Halliburton Co., headed by Vice President Dick Cheney until he joined President Bush's election campaign.

Despite several days of diplomatic acrimony, the United States and UN Security Council nations have made progress in the key oil-for-food program.

Last night, the council reached agreement on a plan to adjust the UN program, a move toward freeing billions of dollars for humanitarian aid for Iraq. A formal Security Council vote on the plan could come today, said German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger. The agreement came hours after such a move was urged by Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The adjustment would allow UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to take the place of Iraq's government in the 1996 oil-for-food program, which allowed Iraq to sell some oil in exchange for food, medicine, and other aid.

Sixty percent of Iraqis rely on the rations delivered by the oil-for-food program, which was suspended when the war began.

Before last night's accord, countries such as Russia and Syria had contested language in the draft they feared might legitimize a US-installed government.

At this point, Bush and Blair have agreed only to

an interim Iraqi authority, made up of opposition leaders from outside and inside Iraq. Plans "will unfold as liberation unfolds," said the senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other administration officials say planning is more advanced, confirming that several retired US diplomats have been recruited for the Office of Reconstruction, possibly to work alongside Iraqis in running key ministries.

So far, Annan has only pledged the full assistance of the UN's various humanitarian agencies, but he reminded the United States and Britain that they have a legal obligation as "belligerents" to address Iraq's needs.

Otherwise, "for anything behind humanitarian relief, we need a mandate from the Security Council," Annan said.

Some specialists in postwar reconstruction urged Bush to allow the United Nations to play a larger role.

"Popular patience with well-meaning outsiders lasts only about three months," said Peter Galbraith, who served in the UN's mission in East Timor and is now with the National War College in Washington. "It would be far better for the US if it were the UN, which has a degree of legitimacy, particularly in Iraq, than the US."

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