U.S. Sped Bremer to Iraq Post
Monday, March 24, 2003
The appointment of L. Paul Bremer III early this month as the new head of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq, portrayed by the Bush administration as part of a smoothly running postwar plan, was a hastily arrived-at decision by a White House increasingly worried about collapsing civil order in Iraq, according to senior administration officials.
The decision to dispatch Bremer to Baghdad two months before retired Gen. Jay M. Garner was supposed to be replaced in the post came after senior White House advisers and President Bush agreed that both the image and reality of the reconstruction effort were flagging, officials said.
Since Iraq capitulated to U.S. forces on April 9, the administration has fended off rising criticism that its planning for the postwar period was inadequate. Widespread looting and destruction have been described as both natural exuberance and understandable revenge for years of mistreatment by ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Ongoing violence has been blamed on Hussein loyalists. Delays in providing electricity, water and medical care have been attributed to the decrepit state in which Hussein left the nation's infrastructure.
But since the end of April, according to accounts of several senior officials, the White House has been actively looking for ways to temper expectations about the pace and early success of reconstruction, and has begun taking steps to improve a situation it saw in danger of going badly wrong.
"Had things been going swimmingly," one senior official said this week, "we might now be beginning the process" of naming Garner's replacement.
Postwar plans drawn up in January and February included the eventual installation of a senior civilian "of stature" to be in charge of non-military aspects of the occupation during an indefinite period between Garner's early efforts and the election of an Iraqi government. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had interviewed and signed off on Bremer in April, but announcements of his appointment and departure were still seen as weeks, if not months, away.
Powell was "surprised" by the decision to advance Bremer's departure for Iraq, one official said, "but it was a nice surprise" since Bremer is a former Foreign Service officer. Rumsfeld, who was traveling overseas when the news broke here on May 1, approved of Bremer but was said to be irritated that reports portrayed the sudden decision as a victory for Powell. Rumsfeld issued a terse statement praising Garner and saying no decision on any change had been announced.
Garner, who now works for Bremer, originally signed up to stay in Iraq until July 1. It is not clear how long he will remain.
Administration officials do not dispute that part of the Bremer decision was based on a feeling that he conforms more to the image they want to project. Garner is a rumpled, balding and friendly figure who, on the relatively few occasions he appeared in public in Iraq, favored open-collar shirts. Bremer, an official said, is much more "telegenic" and has appeared before television cameras in Iraq in a suit.
Most important, in the administration view, is Bremer's no-nonsense demeanor and projection of authority.
Within days of his arrival in Baghdad, Bremer reversed a decision, announced by Garner only two weeks before, to put an Iraqi interim authority in place by the end of May. Overriding complaints from former Iraqi opposition leaders hoping to step quickly into positions of power, Bremer said that would be at least the middle of July, and indicated local leaders would play a greater role.
This week, Bremer decreed that as many as 30,000 top members of Hussein's Baathist Party were ineligible for government jobs, reversing initial Pentagon plans to retain high officials less tainted by ties with Hussein to aid the effort to get services quickly up and running.