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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2003

Post-Saddam U.S. Leaders Garner, Bremer and Chalabi All Have Neocon Ties

 

By Robert Younes, M.D. and Janet McMahon

 

 

Once U.S. and British forces had rolled over the Iraqi army and taken control of Baghdad, it was time to put back together what Iraq's "liberators" had destroyed. In March the Department of Defense appointed Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's choice, retired Army Gen. Jay Garner, to be director of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance for post-war Iraq, reporting - until recently - to the Pentagon.

Garner, who cooled his heels in Kuwait until the fighting essentially was over, was touted as a highly competent administrator and logistician. In 1991, he had led Operation Provide Comfort, which delivered food and shelter to Kurds in northern Iraq after the first Gulf war, when thousands of Iraqi Kurds fled the wrath of Saddam Hussain.

This time around, Garner's responsibilities included managing Iraq's 23 ministries, each - with the exception of the Health Ministry, to be headed by an Iraqi - directed by an American administrator, aided by an Iraqi adviser. Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine was named Garner's regional coordinator for central Iraq, including Baghdad; W. Bruce Moore is the country's Northern Group coordinator, and F.J. "Buck" Walters "coordinates" the southern region.

As the weeks went by, though, increasingly impatient Iraqis continued to wait for water and food supplies and the restoration of electrical power. According to London's Financial Times of May 2, "Some Western officials in Baghdad have described the U.S.-led reconstruction effort as chaotic, contrasting it with the early efforts in Afghanistan under the leadership of the United Nations." Even the neocons' Iraqi wunderkind, Ahmad Chalabi, acknowledged that the "situation is critical because people are complaining and you may get acts of violence." He should know - Chalabi's protégé, fellow former exile and self-proclaimed "mayor of Baghdad" Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, was arrested April 27 by U.S. forces "for his inability to support the coalition military authority and for exercising authority which was not his."

Garner, however, denied the country faced severe problems. "There is no humanitarian crisis," he told reporters in late April. Instead, he said, "We ought to be beating our chests every day. We ought to look in a mirror and get proud and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say: 'Damn, we're Americans!'"

General Garner himself has strong ties to Israel and its American supporters. In 1998, he visited Israel under the aegis of the pro-Israel Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Two years later, he and 42 other retired military officers signed a letter stating that "A strong Israel is an asset that American military planners and political leaders can rely on," and praising Israel's "restraint" in its brutal response to the al-Aqsa intifada.

Just before the onset of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Garner, a personal friend of Ariel Sharon as well as of Donald Rumsfeld, was in charge of placing Patriot missiles in Israel. From 1994 to 1996 he was the commanding general of the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command. Garner currently is on leave from defense contractor SY Technology, of which he assumed the presidency after retiring in 1997 as a three-star general. The firm, which specializes in missile defense systems, was involved in the development of Israel's Arrow missile program. This year it received a $1.5 billion contract to provide logistical services to U.S. special operations forces.

Whether or not the general was spending too much time looking in the mirror, on May 5 President Bush named former Reagan "counter-terrorism ambassador" L. Paul Bremer head of reconstruction efforts in Iraq, with Garner now reporting to him. While Bremer's ascendancy was described as a victory for the State Department over Pentagon control of Iraq's post-war government - and may indeed have been perceived as such by the affected individuals - a closer look reveals that, while the coin may have been flipped, the currency remains the same.

As part of their ongoing competition for the president's ear, Colin Powell's State Department and Rumsfeld's Pentagon, the secretary of defense - or, perhaps, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz - reportedly rejected a list of eight State Department nominees to help administer Iraq. Far from being a State Department "victory," then, Bremer's appointment was calculated to be acceptable to the neocon cabal ensconced in the Pentagon.

And what might make Bremer so qualified—apart from being "a telegenic diplomat who favors expensive suits," as Singapore's Straits Times decribed him? First off, he has the right connections. According to the May 3 Boston Globe, Bremer, a former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, "is considered an ally to neoconservatives in Washington. He worked as an aide in government to Henry A. Kissinger, and later became managing director of Kissinger Associates from 1989 to 2000."

Earlier this year, he and former CIA Director James Woolsey, another cabalist, participated in a UCLA teach-in organized by student Republicans and a group called "Americans for Victory Over Terrorism." Woolsey's description of the ongoing war on terrorism as the "fourth world war" raised eyebrows at home and, undoubtedly, hackles abroad.

Most importantly, however, Bremer can identify the right enemies - of Israel, at least. In a 1996 opinion piece he drafted for the Wall Street Journal entitled "Terrorists' Friends Must Pay a Price," Bremer called on the Clinton administration to deliver ultimatums to, and then pre-emptively attack, Syria, Iran, Libya, and Sudan. Nor is he all talk and no action: it was in 1986, while Bremer was "counter-terrorism ambassador," that the U.S. bombed Libya. (He also named Nelson Mandela's opposition African National Congress as a "terrorist" organization, implicitly legitimizing South Africa's apartheid regime.)

Bremer does have his limitations, however - the most relevant one being that "he doesn't have any background for Middle Eastern affairs," according to Philip C. Wilcox Jr., another former State Department counterterrorism head. "I assume he was chosen because of his impeccable conservative views and his management skills," Wilcox told The Boston Globe.

Meyrav Wurmser, Middle East analyst at the Hudson Institue and co-founder and former director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), views Bremer more charitably, if not less ideologically. According to the Globe, she described Bremer as "not like one of those ideological State people who works against the president, so people are basically happy' in the administration's conservative circles."

(No faint praise that, coming from the prescient neocon whose "acute knowledge of the Palestinian Authority's tactics led her to realize that the Oslo process was doomed to failure from the outset," according to her biography.)

Before the U.S. whisked him back to Baghdad - which he last saw when he was 13 - Ahmad Chalabi, Bremer's sartorial soulmate, was head of the London-based Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella exile group formed in 1992 with CIA assistance. Chalabi envisions himself as Iraq's post-war interim prime minister, and enjoys the endorsement of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, Richard Perle of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, and Hudson Institute co-founder and trustee Max Singer. Others singing his praises include the AIPAC-spinoff Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the aforementioned JINSA.

Born in 1945, Chalabi is the scion of a wealthy Iraqi Shi'i family with close ties to the Hashemite monarchy installed in Iraq after World War I by T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, and British imperial authorities. Chalabi's grandfather served in nine Iraqi cabinet positions, his father was a cabinet officer and president of Iraq's figurehead senate, and his mother ran political salons that catered to the Iraqi elite. In 1958, a coalition of army officers and the Iraqi Communist Party lead a revolution that toppled King Faisal II. The Chalabi family went into exile, starting banks in Geneva, Beirut and Amman - all of which failed.

Chalabi attended MIT, then earned a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, where he was a protégé of the late neo-conservative professor Albert Wohlstetter. It was Wohlstetter who introduced Chalabi to Richard Perle. In 1977, Chalabi was invited by Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan to establish the Petra Bank, which soon became the country's second largest commercial bank. The bank collapsed under Chalabi's chairmanship, bringing ruin to many of its depositors. Chalabi is believed to have swindled up to $100 million in the form of loans to family members and businesses. He allegedly also was using the bank to transfer money to Iraqi opposition groups and engage in arms transfers to Saddam Hussain. Playing both sides of the fence, Chalabi also is rumored to have been a CIA informant regarding Iraq's trade deals. In April 1992, a Jordanian military court sentenced Chalabi in absentia to 22 years of hard labor on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and speculation with the Jordanian dinar.

In the 1980s, Chalabi, by then a "leader" of London-based Iraqi exiles, advocated a "rollback" of the Hussain regime by using a guerrilla force of 1,000 fighters operating out of Iraq's northern and southern no-fly zones. In the early 1990s the CIA spent $100 million, funnelled through the Iraqi National Congress and its Kurdish allies in northern Iraq, to implement Chalabi's plan. In 1996 a force of fighters from the northern no-fly zone tried to topple the Baghdad regime, but the insurrection was crushed. All CIA money to the Iraqi National Congress ceased, along with Washington's commitment to the Chalabi plan.

The State Department and the CIA now reportedly regard Chalabi with deep suspicion, and many in Washington consider him unfit for a leading role in post-war Iraq. Apart from his brief period organizing Kurdish resistance in the north in the 1990s, Chalabi has not been in Iraq since 1956, and it was becoming apparent soon after his latest return in early April that he had little credibility among Iraqis for his reputed role as an adviser to the post-war Ministry of Finance. Even as the Pentagon was airlifting Chalabi and his army of 700 fighters to Iraq in four C-17 transports, in fact, the CIA pronounced Chalabi unfit to be a leader in post-war Iraq.

 

Robert Younes, M.D. is the former media and public relations director, and Janet McMahon of the managing editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

 



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