Bush Shakes Up Iraq Administration
With Reconstruction Plan Under Criticism, Changes Are Made at the Top
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 11, 2003; Page A01
BAGHDAD, May 10 -- 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 U.S. officials here said was part of a broader shake-up of the troubled Pentagon operation to rebuild the country.
Barbara K. Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen and the highest-ranking woman in the U.S.-led interim administration in Iraq, said she intended to leave for Washington on Sunday to fill a senior post at the State Department. As Baghdad's effective postwar mayor, she had been in charge of restoring vital public services and forming a democratic local government for the capital's 5 million residents -- a job that is incomplete.
Senior U.S. officials said other top members of the reconstruction effort here, including the overall leader, Jay M. Garner, a retired Army lieutenant general, and several of his close aides would depart soon. Although Garner had said before the war he would stay in Iraq for about three months, President Bush on Tuesday appointed L. Paul Bremer III, a retired diplomat and counterterrorism 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 organization," a senior U.S. official involved in the reconstruction said today.
In another development, an Iranian opposition group agreed tonight to turn over its weapons and accede to the demands of U.S. forces, the Army said. The surrender of the Mujaheddin-e 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 U.S. reconstruction program 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 damage suffered during the war 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 fulfill 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 neighborhoods still lack electricity and running water, heaps of garbage line 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 consternation at the State Department, where officials argued that a civilian with diplomatic skills and foreign policy experience should coordinate reconstruction activities. The Defense Department chafed at that idea and insisted the program remain under military control. 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.
U.S. officials interviewed today said the U.S. presence in Iraq would likely become more assertive in 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 U.S. 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 why Secretary of State Colin L. Powell asked Bodine to leave. Some observers have criticized her performance, saying she possessed impressive diplomatic skills but not the management know-how to run Iraq's largest city, which was pummeled during the war and ransacked by looters after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party government.
Bremer's involvement in counterterrorism may have had a role in her departure. Bodine antagonized 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 chief of counterterrorism, John O'Neill, who sent more than 250 agents to Yemen, of conducting a heavy-handed investigation that was damaging U.S.-Yemeni relations.
O'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 today, 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 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 inspired 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, which came in a late-night call on a phone that had been installed in her office only hours before, was something of a surprise. Even so, she said her departure was occurring at a "natural break point" after she and her staff finished setting up 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 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 a week or two. Garner is expected to meet with Bremer at the Central Command's field headquarters in Qatar and escort him to Kuwait and then to 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 had 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.
In a statement released tonight, the Army's V Corps said it had accepted the "voluntary consolidation" of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, a group of several thousand armed men opposed to Iran's Islamic government. They have been based in Iraq for years with the blessing of Hussein, who launched an eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s that resulted in more than 500,000 deaths.
The surrender process would take several days to complete, the Army said.
Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, spent the day inside a desert compound negotiating the surrender. Outside, Army tanks blocked the entrance to the camp, preventing anyone from entering.
The Mujaheddin-e Khalq is the military wing of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella body of Iranian opposition groups. They helped train Republican Guard units in Iraq, and have been on a U.S. list of terrorist groups since the 1990s.
In what was seen as a direct challenge to U.S. authority in Iraq, they had set checkpoints near the Iranian border with armed men in uniforms behind sandbags. The United States also fears a confrontation between the Mujaheddin-e Khalq and the Iranian-based Badr Brigade, a group of fighters opposed to the former government. There have been reports that Badr Brigade forces have infiltrated into Iraq from Iran.
Staff writer Carol Morello contributed to this report.