| File photo of Jay Garner with Barbara Bodine in Baghdad. (AFP)
Baghdad, May 11: The American diplomat serving as chief administrator of Baghdad has been reassigned by the Bush administration after less than three weeks in Iraq in what US officials here said was part of a broader shake-up of the troubled Pentagon operation to rebuild the country.
Barbara Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen and the highest-ranking woman in the US-led interim administration in Iraq, said she intends to depart soon for Washington to fill a senior post at the state department. As Baghdad’s effective post-war mayor, she had been in charge of restoring vital public services and forming a democratic local government for the capital’s five million residents — a job that is incomplete.
Senior US officials said other top members of the reconstruction effort here, including the overall leader, Jay Garner, a retired army lieutenant general, and several of his close aides would be departing soon. Although Garner had said before the war he would stay in Iraq for about three months, President Bush on Tuesday appointed . Paul Bremer III, a retired diplomat and counter-terrorism expert, to be the senior civilian in charge of rebuilding the country’s government and infrastructure.
“By the end of this month, you will see a very different organisation,” a senior US official involved in the reconstruction said today.
In another development, an Iranian opposition group agreed last night to turn over its weapons and accede to the demands of US forces, the army said. The surrender of the Mujahideen Khalq, at a camp about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, occurred after two days of negotiations with the army’s 4th Infantry Division.
Bremer’s appointment and Bodine’s departure are occurring as concern grows in Washington and foreign capitals about the pace of the US reconstruction programme in Iraq. Several people involved in the process have said Garner and his staff — as well as his superiors at the Pentagon — did not properly plan for the task, from repairing war damage to restarting government ministries and forming an Iraqi-led, interim administration.
Iraqis have become increasingly frustrated with Garner’s operation, saying that his team has failed to fulfil promises to hand out emergency payments, restore basic public services, address a wave of criminal activity and involve resident Iraqis in the planning for a new government.
In Baghdad, many neighbourhoods still lack electricity and running water, heaps of garbage lines the streets and most shops remain closed because merchants are afraid of looters.
“There’s large parts of the city that are in really bad shape,” the senior official said. “The city is better than it was three weeks ago, but it has a long way to go.”
The shortage of visible progress appears to have sparked much consternation at the state department, where officials argued that a civilian with diplomatic skills and foreign policy experience should coordinate reconstruction activities. The defence department chafed at that idea and insisted the programme remain in the ambit of the military.
Ultimately, the state department view won out at the White House on the grounds that having a civilian at the helm would inspire other nations to support the costly and complicated chore of transforming Iraq into a stable, democratic nation.
US officials interviewed yesterday said the American presence in Iraq likely would become more assertive over the coming weeks. The absence of strong leadership — Iraqi or American — is a subject of intense complaint among ordinary Iraqis, who are struggling with a lack of civil order after 35 years of authoritarian rule.
One senior American official in Baghdad said the US team had been so concerned about being seen as an occupying power that officials were overly reluctant to exert their full authority.
“We came in here hands-off,” the official said. “There was a bit of ambivalence between being an authority and being authoritarian. We were so concerned about being authoritarian that we didn’t exercise authority.”
It was not immediately clear today why secretary of state Colin Powell asked Bodine to leave.
Some observers here have criticised her performance, saying she possessed impressive diplomatic skills but not the management know-how to run Iraq’s largest city, which was pummelled during the war and ransacked by looters after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party government.
Bremer's involvement in counterterrorism also could
have had a role in her departure. Bodine had drawn the
ire of the closely knit community of U.S.
anti-terrorism officials, of which Bremer is a member,
after the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in
Yemen. She accused the FBI's then-chief of counter-terrorism, John 'Neill, who sent more than 250 agents to Yemen, of conducting a heavy-handed investigation that was damaging U.S.-Yemeni relations.
'Neill later left the FBI and became chief of security at the World Trade Center, where he died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In an interview Saturday, Bodine said she did not know the specific reason for her reassignment. She said her new position in Washington would be deputy director of the State Department's political-military division, which handles a wide range of security-related matters with other countries.
``I think so far we've had a good start, but we haven't hit our stride yet,'' Bodine said in her office, located in the marble-floored Republican Palace on the Tigris River. ``I'm not leaving with the sense that we've done everything we could have done, but I'm also not leaving with the sense that it's been a failure.''
Bodine insisted that some of the infrastructure problems that have been the subject of intense criticism by Iraqis occurred before the war. The city, she said, has had rolling blackouts since 1991, when most of its electricity-generating system was damaged in the Persian Gulf War.
``A lot of what was dysfunctional about Baghdad predates the war,'' she said.
She suggested that her reassignment came as something of a surprise - in a late-night call on a phone that had been installed in her office only hours before.
Even so, she said her departure was occurring at a ``natural break point,'' after she and subordinates had finished setting up their initial operations here.
``We've kind of cobbled the machinery together,'' she said. ``Now it's time to hand off to somebody who can take it from here to the political transformation.''
Americans involved in the reconstruction effort said the departures of Bodine, Garner and other top officials here likely would further roil what has been a chaotic and ill-prepared operation, depriving it of continuity and potentially delaying some programs as new leaders familiarize themselves with the operation.
But one official predicted the transition could occur relatively quickly, with Garner and some of his top aides departing in the next week or two. Garner is expected to meet Bremer at the U.S. Central Command's field headquarters in Qatar and escort him to Kuwait and then into Iraq, first visiting the southern port city of Basra before traveling to Baghdad early in the week.
``There will be a pretty quick turnaround,'' the official said.
Bodine, 54, is one of the few members of the U.S. interim authority who speaks Arabic and has spent time in Iraq before the war. She served in the U.S. Embassy here for about 18 months in the early 1980s.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, she was deputy chief of mission in the tiny desert emirate. Although Iraqi forces surrounded the embassy compound and cut off water and electricity to force out the occupants, she and other diplomats toughed it out for four months, drinking water from the swimming pool and eating canned food.