Iraq's Odious Debts

Bremer plans to enlarge, refocus Iraq occupation authority

The Washington Post

November 6, 2003

Baghdad: The U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq said Thursday that he intends to increase the size of the American-led occupation authority, giving two new deputies key responsibilities for managing the influx of nearly $20 billion in new reconstruction funds, and to devote more time to the country’s political transition.

The administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said in an interview that the reorganization is intended to respond to a transition in the reconstruction effort, from a phase of emergency repairs to the longer-term development of new infrastructure and democratic institutions.

“We are at a new point” in the occupation, he said. “These changes reflect where we are.”

With almost $20 billion of the $87.5 billion spending package that President Bush signed on Thursday devoted to reconstruction work for Iraq, Bremer said the occupation authority would set up a large project management office to disburse that money to private American contractors. They, in turn, will be expected to hire Iraqi firms as subcontractors. That office and other staff, which will be hired to oversee the training of security forces, the construction of new electricity-generating capacity and other projects funded by the spending package, will significantly expand the size of the occupation authority. It now has about 2,000 non-Iraqi employees.

“We have to find a way, both legally and transparently and effectively – and I might add, quickly – to spend the largest amount of money the United States has ever spent in any country,” he said. The contracting process, he said, “is going to be a management challenge of a very substantial scale.”

Bremer also said he wants to focus more energy on the creation of a constitution and projects to reform the country’s ossified socialist economic system.

The drafting of a constitution has emerged as a particular concern for the Bush administration, which regards it as a milestone in the process of relinquishing sovereignty to the Iraqi people. Although a committee of legal experts has proposed various methods by which the document can be written, the country’s U.S.-appointed Governing Council, which faces a Dec. 15 deadline to inform the U.N. Security Council about the drafting process, still has not engaged in serious debate on the issue.

The Bush administration wants the council to agree on a mechanism to select drafters within a few months and to have a final document ready by the spring, paving the way for elections by next fall. Many Iraqi political leaders say the drafters should be elected, which could delay the writing process by more than a year.

“The Governing Council has done very little in the last three months,” a senior U.S. official here said. The official said Bremer informed the few council members who attended a meeting with him two weeks ago that “they cannot go on like this.”

Bremer told the council that he would be willing to give it more authority if it became more active, the official said.

To cope with the growth of the occupation authority, Bremer said he would appoint two top deputies: Richard H. Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, to serve as his top policy officer, and retired Lt. Gen. Joseph K. Kellogg Jr. to become the chief operations officer. Jones, a veteran diplomat who speaks Arabic, will supervise political and economic issues, the operations of government ministries and public affairs. Kellogg, the former commanding general of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the occupation authority, including the training of new Iraqi security forces and the reconstruction of the oil and electricity sectors.

Bremer also intends to devote more attention to reducing Iraq’s debt, estimated at about $200 billion. Bremer is considering several options to address the issue, including asking Bush to appoint a senior official to engage in negotiations with foreign governments.

Bremer expressed optimism that he would be able to reach an agreement with Iraqi political leaders on the creation of an Iraqi-run paramilitary force to help pursue resistance fighters. Although some Iraqi leaders have wanted to recruit political party militiamen for the force, Bremer has rejected that idea and insisted that members of the unit be hired individually and carefully vetted for ties to former president Saddam Hussein’s government.

Bremer said he has seen “a modification of the Iraqi view” over the past few weeks. “I think we’ll find a solution to this because it’s a logical thing to do,” he said.

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