Iraq's New Rulers

Handicapping the postwar administrators


Barring a last-minute flight into exile by Saddam Hussein and his family, the United States will be launching its war on Iraq within the next few days. While the best possible outcome will be a short, decisive and low-casualty war, the question of who will wage the peace remains open.

While the American press has been quiet on the possibilities of a postwar administration, Arab papers are already sketching the outline of Iraq's interim government. Quoting U.S. officials, the London-based Al-Hayat sees an American occupation that divides Iraq into three zones—a northern district that includes Kurdistan, a central one that includes Baghdad, and a predominantly Shiite southern district. The staffing decisions for these districts will be our best early indication of the Bush administration's postwar intentions, as well as its understanding of the situation it is taking on.

Each zone will be run by an administrator reporting to retired army general Jay Garner, according to the London-based Saudi paper Al-Sharq al-Awsat. He heads the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the occupation's civil authority. The person slated to handle the central district is former US ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine, the Bush administration's response to Gertrude Bell, who helped govern Iraq for Britain after the First World War.

Bodine's résumé suggests she is an old style State Department regionalist. Though she received a degree in political science and Asian studies, she later shifted her attention to the Arabian Peninsula, twice serving in the Office of Arabian Peninsula Affairs at the Bureau of Near East Affairs. Bodine was stationed in Baghdad as Deputy Principal Officer, and in 1990 she was deputy chief of mission in Kuwait when the Iraqis invaded. For once the State Department put an ambassador in the right place when she was dispatched to Yemen, a natural link between Asia and the Arab world.

Bodine was in Yemen during the USS Cole bombing. A dispute with the FBI, which was investigating the attack, hinted that she may be an official with some skill at handling local sensitivities. Bodine barred an FBI special agent from returning to Yemen because she objected to the bureau's heavy-handed presence in the country and its desire to arm agents with rifles and heavy weapons. Press reports suggested she wanted to assuage Yemeni cultural sensibilities, even though she has defended American intervention through counter-terrorism operations.

If Bodine's prospective appointment is designed to reassure the Iraqis of the benign nature of a US occupation, her boss, Jay Garner, will prove a harder sell. Garner famously signed onto an October 12, 2000 statement by the archconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which praised the Israeli army for having "exercised remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian Authority that deliberately pushes civilians and young people to the front lines."

The statement noted: "What makes the US-Israel security relationship one of mutual benefit is the combination of military capabilities and shared political values—freedom, democracy, personal liberty and the rule of law." That Garner himself benefited from the security relationship is well known: As president of California-based defense contractor SY Technology, he oversaw the company's work on the US-Israeli Arrow missile defense system.

David Lazarus recently reported in the San Francisco Chronicle that Garner's former company is also working on missile systems the US will use against Iraq. Not only does this appear to be a conflict of interest, it also happens to be peculiar politics. As Ben Hermalin, a professor at UC Berkeley who studies professional ethics, told Lazarus: "You have to wonder what the Iraqis will think of this guy and how much trust they'll place in him."

To focus solely on Garner's ties with Israel and US defense contractors might be unfair. The general was also involved in Operation Provide Comfort, the humanitarian effort to help the Kurds after their debacle in 1991, when Iraqi forces swept through Kurdistan.

It is premature to draw too many conclusions from Garner's and Bodine's appointments. Nor is it yet clear what will happen in the northern and southern occupation districts, which are to be administered by two other retired generals—perhaps a sign of US uneasiness with Kurdish and Shiite intentions. However, one cannot help but presume that Bodine will be a comforting but powerless civilian façade for an operation run mainly by the military.

That's because authority will probably be concentrated less in Garner's civil administration than in the US military command under General Tommy Franks. Franks should feel at ease with three former generals working alongside him. The question, however, is whether the Iraqis will.