Washington, April 6: As President George W. Bush prepares to travel to Northern Ireland tomorrow for a summit with his ally Tony Blair, the White House is under intense pressure from hardliners in the administration to announce the ‘changed regime’ in Baghdad as early as Tuesday.
Bush and Blair have serious differences about a successor regime to Saddam Hussein’s and these surfaced during their meeting at Camp David on March 27.
The hardliners want Bush to convince Blair that arrangements made by the Pentagon to put an interim authority in place in Baghdad cannot be delayed.
Relying on Bush’s persuasive power over Blair, officials here are giving finishing touches to arrangements for a news conference in Kuwait City tomorrow by US Lieutenant General (Retd) Jay Garner.
Head of the Pentagon’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, Garner will run Iraq until permanent arrangements are made.
A news conference by Garner, who has remained out of sight since his arrival in Kuwait about 10 days ago, will make his appointment a fait accompli. According to leaks from the administration here, the US-run administration under Garner will have three governors for Iraq’s three regions.
As reported by The Telegraph last week, former US ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine will be based in Baghdad as governor of the central region.
Retired General Buck Walters will be governor for the southern region and General Bruce Moore will be in charge of the Kurdish north.
In a bid to avoid any serious Russian opposition to the idea, Bush is sending his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a fluent Russian speaker, to Moscow tomorrow for meetings with Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov, defence minister Sergei Ivanov and her Russian counterpart Vladimir Rushailo.
Rice’s mission has been somewhat complicated with a Russian convoy of 25 diplomats and journalists going from Baghdad to Syria being attacked today though it was not clear at the time of writing who was behind the attack.
As arrangements for installing Baghdad’s new regime gathered pace, US Marine Corps General Peter Pace, vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, announced here today that the nucleus of a new national army for Iraq was in the works with exiled Iraqi “freedom fighters” being airlifted to southern Iraq. “These are Iraqi citizens who want to fight for a free Iraq, who will become basically the core of the new Iraqi army once Iraq is free.”
The rush among hardliners here to announce a “regime change” in Baghdad is also mandated by opposition within the administration both to hurrying things and to the idea of a new regime controlled and run by the Pentagon. These differences came into the open when secretary of state Colin Powell wrote to defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week, objecting to the Pentagon’s plans to oversee the distribution of humanitarian aid in Iraq.
Later in the week, Powell assured his European Union counterparts and Nato’s North Atlantic Council in Brussels that the Bush administration would work for a partnership with the UN or Nato or both in Iraq after the conflict is over.
Any hope that Powell could have his way were quickly dashed when Rice, who has the President’s ear more than any other aide, ruled out any key role for the UN on Friday.
One hardliner, deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, rationalised the immediate need for an interim US-led authority when he said today that it would take more than six months for an Iraqi government to be created to run the country.
“The UN can be a mechanism for bringing assistance to the Iraqi people... but our goal has to be to transfer authority and operations of a government as quickly as possible, not to some other external authority but to the Iraqi people,” he told Fox News.