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Flashtraffic: What to watch for in a post-Saddam Iraq

Saddam Hussein's regime survived just three weeks beyond President Bush's ultimatum, but now a much longer process begins: rebuilding a war-ravaged country. Here's what to watch for ...

Issue: "Baghdad set free," April 19, 2003

Saddam Hussein's regime survived just three weeks beyond President Bush's ultimatum, but now a much longer process begins: rebuilding a war-ravaged country. Here's what to watch for ...

The new regime. Keep an eye on Ahmed Chalabi. The son of a wealthy Muslim Shiite banking family, he became the head of the anti-Saddam, pro-Western Iraqi National Congress in exile. Close to Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, Mr. Chalabi has been shuttling between Washington and London for years, building support for "regime change" in Baghdad. Now, he and 3,000 Iraqi opposition commandos-trained by U.S. special forces-are on the ground in Nasiriyah, preparing to head to Baghdad.

James Phillips, senior Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation, says Mr. Chalabi is "the leading contender for the top leadership post" in Iraq. "He's probably the best-known Iraqi opposition leader in the West and I think he'll play a major role in rebuilding Iraq." Mr. Chalabi has strong support in Congress, though some at the CIA and State Department are skeptical. Mr. Chalabi is urging Washington to move quickly to set up an interim government, lest a dangerous political vacuum develop.

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As a first step, watch for the creation of an "Iraqi Interim Authority." The IIA will serve as a transitional authority until Iraqis can form a new permanent government. It will be drawn from a diverse coalition of Iraqis inside and outside of the country. All of Iraq's religious and ethnic groups will be represented.

The U.S. role. Jay Garner is the new point man for peace in Iraq. A retired U.S. Army general, Mr. Garner, 64, has experience. In 1991, he ran Operation Provide Comfort in Northern Iraq to help the Kurds establish their own administration. Mr. Garner-who will report to CENTCOM Commander Gen. Tommy Franks-will run the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

The mission of ORHA will be limited-to help Iraqis restore the delivery of food, electricity, water, medical care, and basic local government services, not to be an interim government. ORHA will coordinate the work of all U.S. agencies, as well as an array of international advisors and organizations. But Iraqis will be fully involved in the operations from the beginning.

The United States plans to pay most of the initial bills. "It used to be that the victor looted the loser," said Daniel Pipes, executive director of the Middle East Forum. Nevertheless, Mr. Pipes says the United States probably should help rebuild Iraq pro bono. "If we're going to win back the support of so many [Arab] people who are deeply hostile to us, then we just forgo this money and do a good job. The money is not the most important thing. We need to ... show that we're not there to be imperialistic, that we're not interested in violence against civilians, that we're going to help rebuild Iraq."

The UN role. Secretary General Kofi Annan-on a tour through France, Germany, and Russia-says he expects the UN to play an "important role" in rebuilding Iraq. But National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told White House reporters last week that role "is yet to be determined." She said, "I think we don't want to try to get into a theology here about the UN role [but] all of us should be looking ... for a broad representative group of Iraqis who can begin to restore life to the Iraqi people."

John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, echoed that sentiment in New York: "People shouldn't be surprised if the coalition is going to take the lead in Iraq, given the fact that it's the coalition that has basically sacrificed its blood and treasure to achieve the outcome that now seems to be inevitable."

The oil. Iraq could pump 2.5 million to 3 million barrels of oil a day by the end of the year. Export sales could bring in $20-25 billion a year. Assuming a 10 percent national tax, the new Iraqi government could begin financing a national budget of between $2 billion and $2.5 billion a year. Iraq's oil fields have been poorly maintained since the last Gulf War. But U.S. officials say significant investments in repairs and new technology could double oil output over the next 10-15 years.

Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg

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