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DoD, USAID Teams Readying to Rebuild Iraq, Provide Assistance

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2003 – "Free Iraqis" who have lived in the United States and other democratic countries will provide valuable liaison between local Iraqi government officials and U.S. officials overseeing the country after any potential conflict.

Officials from the Defense Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are working to have teams ready to move into Iraq in the event of military conflict to begin coordination immediately for humanitarian aid and reconstruction.

A senior defense official was quick to point out to reporters today that the president hasn't made a decision to force Iraqi disarmament with military might. But if he does, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the United States is committed to making life immediately better for the Iraqi people.

In January, President Bush authorized the immediate stand-up of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. The senior official, who's familiar with that office and its efforts, was on hand to answer reporters' questions in the Pentagon today.

The official explained the agency is looking to hire more than 100 "free Iraqis" on 90- to 180-day contracts to assist the civil ministries and to act as representatives in each of the 17 provinces and Baghdad to coordinate with the local officials and help recommend reconstruction or humanitarian projects.

"We think that's a good recipe," the official said, "to have people that were born and raised in those provinces but now have lived in a democracy. And now they can explain things to the people there who have been oppressed for 30 years."

He said he hopes to hire Iraqis who have specific expertise in certain areas. For example, he is looking for volunteers who have experience in public health administration and who can assist officials in the Iraqi health ministry.

The official said the goal of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance is to pass the country's governance to the Iraqi people as soon as possible, "but with a government that expresses the free will of the people of Iraq."

In the immediate aftermath of any conflict, a civil administrator, who is a senior Defense Department civilian official, would coordinate efforts in Iraq and report directly to the chief of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Tommy Franks. This administrator would oversee three separate teams coordinating reconstruction, civil administration and humanitarian assistance.

A cornerstone of the plan would be to keep Iraqi officials in their current positions within the civil ministries, police and military forces, and courts, and to continue paying them. The Defense Department briefer explained officials are working to determine a fair pay scale, keeping in mind that as much as 60 percent of all Iraqis now get government food aid.

He said there are many possible sources of funding for payrolls. He specifically mentioned frozen Iraqi assets as a potential solution.

Regular Iraqi army soldiers would provide the manpower for many civil reconstruction projects, the official explained. Military forces are suited to completing engineering projects like road construction and removing rubble, and to demining and disposing of unexploded ordnance.

"Using the army allows us not to demobilize it immediately and put a lot of unemployed people on the street," the official explained. "They're working to rebuild their country. It's re-establishing some of the prestige that the regular army has lost over the years, and it allows us to get a lot of good things done for the country."

The official estimated the Defense Department could get the mechanisms for Iraqi self-governance into place within several months. He's optimistic, he said, these efforts will get Iraq back on its feet more quickly than similar efforts in Afghanistan. He noted Iraq's population is more sophisticated and its infrastructure more developed than Afghanistan's.

"Even though it's been an oppressed country, (Iraq) has the structure and the mechanisms in there to run that country and run it fairly efficiently," the official said. "At one time, it was probably one of the most efficient countries in that part of the world, and a lot of that talent's still there."

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