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Draft US Plans for Post-War Iraq Draw Controversy - 2003-04-02

Although the war in Iraq is still raging, U.S. officials have drafted plans for a post-war administration of the country. But there is controversy over the plans, which call for an interim administration under direct U.S. control.

The guns are not yet silent, yet there is already plenty of political smoke and thunder over U.S. plans for the post-war administration of Iraq.

There is controversy over the U.S. preparations to, in effect, go it alone and relegate the United Nations playing only a humanitarian role in post-war Iraq.

The United States has set a new "Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance" to govern Iraq for an unspecified period until an Iraqi civilian authority can take over. Despite the office's civilian-sounding name, it will be a kind of military government, headed by retired U.S. General Jay Garner with a de facto cabinet drawn from officials of the U.S. State and Defense Departments.

Nile Gardiner, a scholar at the think tank the Heritage Foundation and a former advisor to ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, says that the United Nations should have no say in governing post-war Iraq.

"The basic principle should be laid down by the Bush administration that only those nations that have joined the 'Coalition of the Willing' should participate in the post-war administration and security of Iraq," he said. "I think the United Nations actually lacks the moral authority, and also the practical ability, to run the hugely complex task of administer a post-war Iraq and running a security operation. And I believe that Great Britain and the United States are actually in the best position to run the administration."

Privately, some U.S. officials say they do not even see any need for the United States to obtain any kind of sanction from the United Nations Security Council to administer post-war Iraq.

But others feel that would be a mistake. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a staunch U.S. ally in the war, said Wednesday any post-war setup in Iraq should have the blessing of the United Nations.

"Of course it is the case we will need the U.N. to be involved because it is a matter of agreement on both sides of the Atlantic that any Iraqi interim authority needs to be U.N.-endorsed," he said.

In a recent report, the nonpartisan International Crisis Group a Brussels-based organization that does research on world trouble spots says the United Nations should run the post-war transitional authority. Mark Schneider, a senior vice president of the Group, says a U.N. administration would go a long way towards healing the diplomatic wounds brought on by the U.S. decision to go to war.

"The U.S. is going to be there on the security side, without question," he said. "But at least if you have maybe an Arab diplomat heading a coordination role, it's going to be a lot easier saying this is an international effort helping to rebuild Iraq. And it should dampen down the level of anger. You'd hate to see the kind of suicide bombers appearing after the conflict."

Bathsheba Crocker of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the wounds at the United Nations are deep. She points to the arguments at the Security Council on restarting the Oil for Food program, under which Iraqi oil is sold to buy humanitarian aid for Iraq.

"What we saw with the Security Council discussions on the Oil for Food Program last week is not promising because that's a humanitarian issue that should generally be relatively uncontroversial," she said. "And the fact that we had days and days and days of drawn out discussions, and they were very contentious, and the eventual resolution that the Security Council agreed to was incredibly narrowly tailored to avoid any controversial issues is a sign that our relations at the U.N. are not in very good shape right now, and may be in worse shape than we thought they were."

But U.S. officials say whatever role the United Nations or private aid groups will have in Iraq will be under the oversight of the U.S.-run transitional authority.