| An man walks into a video shop in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. (AFP)
Washington, May 7 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush today named former state department counter-terrorism chief L. Paul Bremer as the top civil administrator for Iraq, supplanting a retired general and putting a more civilian face on the US occupation while retaining Pentagon control.
Bush made the announcement with Bremer at his side in the White House Oval Office. They were joined by defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of state Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
“He’s a can-do-type person. He shares the same values as most Americans here, and that is a deep desire to have an orderly country in Iraq that is free and at peace, where the average citizen has a chance to achieve his and her dreams,” Bush said of Bremer.
Bremer, who was expected to arrive in Iraq next week, will outrank Jay Garner, a retired army general who had been temporarily in charge of rebuilding Iraq. Bremer, commonly known as “Jerry,” will also oversee Zalmay Khalilzad, the US official guiding Iraq’s political evolution.
Despite his pedigree as a career diplomat, Bremer will report to Rumsfeld, which may not ease qualms by some other countries over the military’s role in Iraq’s reconstruction.
“It still means that the Pentagon is the driving force here,” said analyst Bathsheba Crocker of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Brian Atwood, former administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said of Bremer: “He is a very good diplomat and knows that business ... What is really needed is a person (like Bremer) who can analyse the political situation and avoid the land mines, of which there are plenty in Iraq.”
He said Garner has appeared insensitive to the challenges of instilling democracy in Iraq, citing his remarks comparing Iraqi political transformation with “tension and discord” in the early years of US independence.
Garner said on Monday he would remain in Iraq for a while to ensure a “good handoff.”
Bush spoke as the state department charged that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his family took about $1 billion from the Iraqi central bank shortly before the start of the US-led invasion in March. A spokesman said the US was trying to recover the money, and urged other governments to cooperate.
In addition, a defence official said yesterday that initial examination of a tractor-trailer turned over to US forces in Iraq indicated it might have been a mobile chemical or biological weapons laboratory.
Asked about the truck, Bush said: “I’m not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons programme of Saddam Hussein, because he had a weapons programme.”
The US has yet to reveal substantial evidence of Iraqi unconventional weapons, although charges that Saddam had such weapons were a main justification for the war. “Over time, the truth will come out, and the American people will see that when we ... got him out of power, we made America more secure,” Bush said. Bush declared last week that major fighting in Iraq had ended, setting the stage for reconstruction.
The appointment of Bremer comes amid tension between the state and defence departments over the handling of the post-war effort. Bush said: “The ambassador goes with the full blessings of this administration and the full confidence of all of us in this administration that he can get the job done.”
Bremer has been chairman of Marsh Crisis Consulting, a firm that advises companies on crises, including natural disasters and terrorism. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan appointed Bremer the state department’s ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism.