The Next Face of Iraq

How a former US general can jump-start a nation

Waiting patiently in Kuwait for the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime is an American official who would replace him.

John Garner, a former Army general from the 1991 Gulf War, has been piecing together an "Interim Iraqi Administration," which will have him as its unelected, civilian, and temporary ruler.

Known for his past humanitarian efforts in Iraq, Mr. Garner is on leave from a US defense contractor and is President Bush's best choice for the difficult task of jump-starting a new Iraq.

A victory over Mr. Hussein is weeks, maybe months away, but the United States already has written a basic script for a postwar civil authority in Iraq - and, so far, it doesn't include the United Nations.

Come V-I Day, Garner will be the new face of Iraq.

Having failed to win a final resolution on Iraq at the UN Security Council before the war, the US is rightfully skittish about returning for a long debate about a UN hand in Iraq, with the likelihood that France will once again play the spoiler.

Still, a diplomatic sandstorm over the UN's political role has begun, even as US and British forces liberate Iraq city by city and UN agencies urgently seek to address Iraq's humanitarian crisis (which is largely of Hussein's doing).

Behind the maneuvering at the UN are French and Russian concerns over retaining their oil interests in Iraq and whether their businesses will win rebuilding contracts.

Beyond those narrow interests, however, lies French President Jacques Chirac's promise to veto any UN resolution that would "give the American and British belligerents the right to administer Iraq." He's still fighting a war he's already lost.

Here's the horn-locking essence of the debate: The US figures France and others won't block the UN from helping in the humanitarian tasks; while France figures the US won't want to pay the estimated $20 billion a year to repair a new Iraq and keep it afloat and will, as the reluctant empire it is, ultimately seek UN help.

To be sure, once the glow of liberation has faded among the 23 million Iraqis, the US will need to quickly bring in as many non-American faces as possible to help rule and fix Iraq so that Garner doesn't look like General MacArthur in Occupied Japan or evoke Arab memories of Western colonialism.

That means the US must soon both internationalize and "Iraqize" the new civil authority and other aspects of postwar Iraq. For outside help, the US could rely on its "coalition of the willing," which includes Britain, Australia, and dozens of other nations. That constitutes about one-quarter of the UN. So far, that's a safe choice. Japan has promised aid, and perhaps even Germany will pitch in.

The more difficult task is to find one or more credible Iraqis - either returning exiles or new defectors - to effectively lead the transition authority to a new constitution and a broad-based elected government, albeit under Garner's temporary tutelage. If France and others can see a popular Iraqi executive council up and running soon, that may dissipate the arguments over whether the US or the UN should rule.

So far, however, the US hasn't played that hand. It's waiting to add high-level defectors from Hussein's regime or able bureaucrats in Baghdad to its list of transitional figures. In the meantime, it's trying to hold together a group of opposition figures in exile, ranging from Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmed Chalabi to Abdulaziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite-based group that may turn out to be a radical religious front for Iran. And creating a unity government will mean neutralizing members of Hussein's socialist Baath Party, who've been in power for 35 years.

Garner will need all the help he can get. It won't help if the UN debate drags on, giving hope to one Iraqi faction or another that it can play the big powers off against each other. Peace in Iraq will need a cease-fire at the UN.

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