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Backgrounder on Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Post-War

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
March 11, 2003 10:00 AM EDT

Staff: This is going to be a background briefing on the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. We're going to have about 30 minutes to answer your questions. I know a lot of you have a lot of questions. This is our first opportunity to meet a lot of the media.

Our two people up here, for those people on background only, and I'll introduce our first Defense spokesman.

Senior Defense Official: I asked to talk to you. I asked (staff) to put this together and let me talk to you for several reasons. Number one, there's a lot of information coming out that's, to me, not quite right, and I wanted to tell you what I know; and what I don't know, I'll tell you that I don't know. And then I want to give you the background on how we got started, where we are today, what our goals are, and then we kind of take this into a dialogue and the two of us will field whatever questions you have for the time we have remaining.

On the -- about the 20th of January, the president signed a directive that established our office, and it was to deal with the post-Saddam conditions in Iraq. And we began putting a group together from the interagencies. DOD was given the responsibility for putting the office together, and that's why the organization ended up here in this building. We started out very slowly. The first week we only had three or four people. And as these things occur, it began building, and now we have close to 200 people from the military and from the interagency process.

We've taken all the plans -- well, not all -- all the plans that we know of, that have been prepared by the interagency -- and there's been a -- there was an awful lot of work done by the interagency. We brought all those together and we read them -- we haven't changed any -- we've read them, and we began trying to connect the dots on all of them. In fact, I think we have connected the dots on most of them. And what our focus was was to take the good work that had been done and to begin to operationalize that work so you could execute those plans in a post-Saddam environment in Iraq. We began that process toward the end of January. Our team worked real hard on it.

And then we had a rehearsal, facilitated by National Defense University over at McNair; we had a rehearsal that was very intense, lasted two days, went over all the plans. And that was on the 21st and 22nd February. That was a Friday and a Saturday. We had, at any one time, we've had anywhere between 150 and 200 people from the interagency in that, attended by many of the assistant secretaries of each one of departments. It was a good rehearsal. It brought out many, many issues -- as you would think it would -- as you begin to peel back the onion to look at how do you actually implement this plan. Is the team in place? Is the money there to do what you want to do? How long will this take? What is the lead (tackling ?)? When do they get there? Who do they report to? Are the communications set up where you could do that? Do they have the transportation? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So since that period of time, what we have done is gone through all of these issues and every day you uncover more issues, as you would expect. But it's been a good process, it's been a healthy process and it's been a process of team work. And it was good with us because it began to bond our team. And as you would expect, there is a little angst at the interagency coming into the Pentagon to do their work. And so we bonded together, I think, an extremely good team. And I'll go over that team with you in a few minutes.

Our goal from day one has been to put together as solid set of plans that we could implement with a goal of going into country, implementing those plans, staying as long as necessary to be able to stand up a government in Iraq and get out as fast as we can. And our goal is to turn Iraq over to the Iraqi people, but with a government that expresses the free will of the people of Iraq. We intend to immediately start turning some things over, and every day, we'll turn over more things. I believe that's our plan.

Our organization is -- (to other Defense official) -- you want me to hand out this?

Senior Defense Official: Sure.

Senior Defense Official: Let me just keep this one here. Why don't we just pass those on?

I'll wait until he hands that out and I'll tell you how we're fixed here.

(Long pause.)

Let me walk you through the three boxes.

The first one is a reconstruction coordinator. And what you see listed under there are the functions that he's going to be most involved with. And the reconstruction coordinator is a very experienced U.S.AID official who, after he gets in country, he will initially stand up all the U.S.AID functions in country -- done a lot of this; very experienced.

The civil administrator -- under him you see all the functions that he's responsible for. He is a DOD official -- has a great deal of experience also.

Senior Defense Official: It's premature right now.

Senior Defense Official: Okay. The humanitarian assistance coordinator is a former ambassador. Excellent, excellent man.

Q: Do you have more copies of that?

Staff: They're being -- (off mike).

Senior Defense Official: I don't have any. We'll get you some.

Senior Defense Official: They just went to get some.

Senior Defense Official: Yeah.

So what you see in those three boxes are the functions that have to be accomplished in country. Now each one of those is almost a vertical stovepipe, and what we needed was something that horizontally allowed these vertical stovepipes to work. So my friend here put together an operations group, and that operations group is responsible for the logistical functions, the operational functions, the staffing, transportation, all the things it takes to make an organization move.

Now below that you see three other boxes, and those are three coordinators. Because Iraq is so large, what we're going to have to do is have coordinators in the country, and so we have a coordinator for the northern part, and you have under him a core staff of about 12 people. And then we'll have the same thing in the South. And in the central (sic), we'll have a coordinator who -- about 80 percent of their time will be spent on just the city of Baghdad.

Each one of them will have a small staff, and what we're trying to do is we're working now to hire and enlist free Iraqis, from the United States, from Britain, from democratic European countries, that represent the provinces, each of the 17 provinces and Baghdad, that we can use to go down to the provinces and form groups from the people of each one of those provinces that begin to nominate to us things that they -- that need to be done in terms of reconstruction, in terms of humanitarian aid.

Now that process -- I had great hopes for that process, but that's not going to -- it'll happen, but it's not going as fast as I wanted. We've hired several free Iraqis, but we need to hire over a hundred, and we haven't approached that number yet.

We're putting them under contract, and they are for a short period of time, somewhere between 90 and, at the most, 180 days.

What we're doing is we're -- the reason we're bringing them in is because they have lived in a democratic country now. They understand the democratic process. And as we use them to facilitate what's going on, we think that that's a good recipe -- to have people that were born and raised in those provinces but now have lived in a democracy. And they can explain things to the people there, who have been oppressed for the last 30 or so years. These coordinators will then set up committees in each of the provinces. Like I said before, those provinces will nominate to us work that they want to see done.

Now, as you know, this is a very labor-intensive business when you get into this type thing. So one of our goals is to take a good portion of the Iraqi regular army -- I'm not talking about the Republican Guards, the special Republican Guards, but I'm talking about the regular army -- and the regular army has the skill sets to match the work that needs to be done in construction. So our thought is to take them and they can help rebuild their own country. We'd continue to pay them. And these committees will nominate work for them to do, do things like engineering, road construction, work on bridges, remove rubble, demine, pick up unexploded ordnance, construction work, et cetera, et cetera.

That also allows us -- and using army allows us not to demobilize it immediately and put a lot of unemployed people on the street. So it works a pretty good process. They're working to rebuild their country. It's reestablishing 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 other thing we're trying to do with free Iraqis is bring in two to three with the right skill sets for each of the 21 or 22 ministries; say, from public health, bring in a free Iraqi that's an expert in public health.

Now in the ministries, the Iraqis are going to continue to run the ministries, as -- they run it now. And we're going to have them keep running it and we're going to pay them, pay them their salaries. But what we want to do is bring in a free Iraqi who understands the democratic process to help us facilitate making that ministry more efficient.

The time frame right now is to be ready to go when called or when directed. Our time frame in country is to get in there as soon as we can and begin this work, and end it as fast as possible, but at the same returning to the Iraqi people a set of things that weren't as good when we got them and are better now and begin the democratic process and to have, like I said, a government that represents the free will of the people

(To other briefer:) Have you got anything you want to add?

Senior Defense Official: I thought that was marvelous. Thank you, sir. (Laughter.)

Just one statement of the obvious, and that is this all assumes a decision by the president of the United States to execute military operations.

Senior Defense Official: Yes, sir?

Q: Is the United States willing to accept anything other than a Western style democracy and a capitalistic economy for Iraq?

Senior Defense Official: I think what the United States is willing to accept -- this me talking now -- is any government that expresses the -- any elected government that expresses the will of the people.

Q: That would include an Islamic-based government?

Senior Defense Official: Well, it's an Islamic country, right.

Yes, sir?

Q: Could you explain a couple of things?

Senior Defense Official: I'll try.

Q: One, security is not laid out in much detail here. This horizontal line to General Franks, what exactly is the chain of command between your organization and CentCom?

Senior Defense Official: Yeah, right now -- right now my organization coordinates with CentCom. But as soon as we come into country, we'll work with CentCom. General Franks will be my boss.

Q: And the other question is, you know, the Iraqi National Congress last week put together this six-person group that they said was going to be the core of a new government. Is that the way you see that group as well?

Senior Defense Official: I think that's going to evolve over time. I think you're going to see a lot of people putting forth groups, and eventually we will evolve a process that leads to a democratic style government.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: How much of this plan here, how many of these players are actually in place now with you, ready to move? And two, how much of this plan is drawn from lessons learned based on experiences in Afghanistan?

Senior Defense Official: Well, I think the plans are based on experiences learned all throughout the '90s, since we've been involved in this. I've got about 180 people with me now, but we have a lot of people in country. The DART team is already in place. The coordinator that runs reconstruction is deployed; he deployed a little over a week ago with portions of his team. He's deployed an advance party that left last Friday, that we speak to daily.

So when you get in -- when we get in there, it will not only be all these people that I just talked about, but it will also be the mechanisms they set up to do the work, such as contracting.

Q: But they're already staging in the region, so they're ready to move immediately?

Senior Defense Official: Large bulks are already stationed in the region, you're right.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Could you tell us about money that you guys have figured that you're going to need, what your budget is? And then there's a couple -- I had heard that there was going to be maybe an international person put between you and CentCom, someone from the coalition --

Senior Defense Official: I don't know, but if you find out who that is, let me know, because I'd like to know about that. (Laughter.)

Q: Sure.

And have you established the coordinators? Are they going to be U.S. military or are they going to be --

Senior Defense Official: They're all civilian. They're all U.S. and they're all civilian.

Q: U.S. and civilian.

Senior Defense Official: Mm-hmm.

Q: And the budget?

Senior Defense Official: The budget's a function of the supplemental.

Q: Okay.

And I'm sorry, one more thing. The INC members. Do they count as free Iraqis? Or are you really only looking for Americans and British --

Senior Defense Official: They count, but we're not trying to hire any of them right now. Okay?

[Clarification: DoD is not hiring or contracting with the Iraqi National Congress (INC) members as such, but some of the Iraqi expatriates working with DoD may be INC members. The INC has played an important role over the years in getting various Iraqi opposition groups to cooperate with one another. The U.S. government admires the INC's success s in organizing the endorsement by those groups of principles that the USG favors for the creation of a new democratic government for Iraq.]

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Could you explain -- is your office going to be in charge of the immediate humanitarian relief that the military supposedly is going to provide? Or how are you planning on interfacing, if you are, with --

Senior Defense Official: Well, what we have -- as you know, the military has Civil Affair brigades that get involved in them. We have embedded DART teams that really are part of the humanitarian assistant coordinator.

Q: DART teams.

Senior Defense Official: Uh-huh.

Q: DART teams?

Q: Could you explain what that is? (Laughter.) How that --

Senior Defense Official: They're the teams from U.S.AID; they're the Disaster Response Teams. They're already in place. They're in place in Kuwait now.

Q: And in terms of resources? I mean, there's projections that, you know, millions of Iraqi children are going to need therapeutic feeding and all that. I mean, is that something that you're confident you have --

Senior Defense Official: I'm not -- no, I'm not --

Q: -- (inaudible) -- or is that something that's going to be -- I'm just unclear on who does what.

Senior Defense Official: I'm sorry; I'm not following you. Maybe I'm not connecting with you here. I --

Q: Well, you've got people embedded with the military --

Senior Defense Official: Right.

Q: -- from U.S.AID.

Senior Defense Official: Right.

Q :Their responsibility is humanitarian assistance.

Senior Defense Official: That's right.

Q: I'm just trying to get a sense of how you're planning -- how that's going to coordinate and what the resource levels are at this point for that aid.

Senior Defense Official: If I could -- that coordination will go on between our organization and the organization; if hostilities break out, that we'll prosecute those hostilities -- that -- what's called the CFLCC (ph). And all of that Civil Affairs structure is embedded in that military organization. We will be coordinating on our level with the commander of CFLCC (ph) and providing him every -- all the information we have with regard to those kinds of issues that you suggest will generate early in the process. The resources to support those will flow from the U.N., from ICRC, from all the NGOs and IOs and use the assessment capability extent in the DART teams, the Civil Affairs brigades and all of those other agencies that are out there looking at what the requirements are.

Q: Okay. So you're primarily functioning as communications and liaison --

Senior Defense Official: On the front end of this.

Senior Defense Official: On the front end.

Senior Defense Official: On the front end, that's correct.

Senior Defense Official: And every day, move more and more into the execution piece of this.

Q: If I could just follow up on that point --

Senior Defense Official: Now wait a minute. Wait a minute. He's been trying to ask --

Q: Thank you. Can you talk generally about how you plan to manage oil -- in particular, what the plan is for -- what you do with revenues, that income, and how you manage how much of that goes to reconstruction and how much not?

Senior Defense Official: Okay. Number one, the oil belongs to the Iraqi people. I see my involvement in oil to be to repair -- begin the repairs of anything that's damaged, to ensure that the refineries are capable of doing what they need to do, to look at the pipeline, begin the initial repairs on the pipeline.

But I don't intend to be the guy that sells Iraqi oil. That's -- I think the oil belongs to the Iraqi people. Whatever the U.N. does in resolutions to allow more use of revenues, I think that ought to be very transparent, widely audited, and it ought to go to work for the Iraqi people. So I'm not getting into the sale of oil business.

Q: Having said that, do you anticipate the U.S. having to pay for everything that you're about to undertake on its own, or do you anticipate some of that revenue, because it's Iraqi, being used for Iraqi reconstruction?

Senior Defense Official: I would think, as we go down this road -- this is my thought -- that over time, some of that revenue will go for the reconstruction of Iraq, to build schools, to build hospitals, to put in better power grids, improve roads.

Yes, ma'am? And we'll come back.

Q: On the issue of budget, I know that you said that it's part of the supplemental, but do you have any working estimates of how much it's going to cost to pay all the people in the ministries and the Iraqi military, et cetera, et cetera?

Q: What are you asking for?

Senior Defense Official: The -- we've had a number that's been dancing on the -- what we need to do up front is pay the people in the ministries, be able to pay the army and be able to pay the law enforcement agencies and the court system. We spent a lot of time trying to establish what that pay scale is, what are they getting now and how much should they get. And when you do that, you have to factor in the fact that over 60 percent of them are receiving food, and so if they receive less food in the future, the wage scale has to be higher.

So we about completed that. That's still in the works. And there are several that -- they're looking at several places for those revenues. One of them is frozen Iraqi assets, and I think that's being discussed this week.

Q: Any --

Senior Defense Official: But I don't have an answer for you right now. I'd just tell you it's a work in progress.


Q: I hardly know where to begin. (Laughter.)

Senior Defense Official: I don't either, so --

Senior Defense Official: If you figure it out, come up and -- (laughter).

Q: As you look at the ministries, I mean, some of them are benign, health ministries, and some of them are not so benign.

Senior Defense Official: Some of them go away.

Q: Interior ministries, the ministry of prisons and stuff like that, some of which you actually need to continue to have function. So are you going to go in and gut some of the less benign ministries? How do you --

Senior Defense Official: Let me throw them into a couple categories, okay? I think to begin with, you have to have a face, a U.S. face, a government, interagency face for every ministry. Then the ministries begin to fall in categories. One of them is those that you're probably not going to keep and don't want to keep, but you still have to have some oversight ability because you have to have a way of dismantling it.

The second category would be those that you can turn over pretty quick, hand back to the Iraqi people. The third category are those that will take a while longer to turn over but you're going to work on turning them over as fast as you can.

The last category would be the ones that are difficult to turn over. An example of that might be defense. And that may end up over time being turned over to an international agency or somebody else. But our intent is to keep the ministry people in place, have them continue to function in ministries until we either, A, disestablish that ministry or, B, turn it back over to the Iraqis.

Q: You have now described several different parts of the government that you are going to pay salaries for -- army, court system --

Senior Defense Official: Right. Somebody is going to pay salaries.

Q: -- and some of the ministries. There are other chunks of the government that -- if you can help us out -- do you plan on keeping schools and hospitals? Do you plan on paying teachers? I mean, how deep are you going to go with this largesse of pretending to have revenue flowing in -- not pretending, having revenue flow in? What other institutions will you support with revenue, with money?

Senior Defense Official: I think, Jack, when I say ministries, and you take education, yes, I think that flows all the way down the school system. You take public health, yes, that flows all the way down into the medical system.

Q: So it's not the ministries you're trying to (keep afloat?), you're trying to keep the whole school system.

Senior Defense Official: When you talk about ministries, we're talking about probably in the neighborhood of 2 million or more people.

Q: You're describing a vastly more invasive and widespread operation than even is remotely going on in Afghanistan. And we've been told that in Afghanistan there is no time set when the troops might come out; they'll be there for a long, long time. I know the answer is "as long as it takes," but are we talking months, years, decades?

Senior Defense Official: I'm talking -- I'll probably come back to hate this answer, but I'm talking months. But in Iraq you do have a somewhat more sophisticated country and a somewhat more structured country than you do in Afghanistan. And that -- and I think also, that -- even though it's been an oppressed country, it has the structure and the mechanisms in there to run that country and run it fairly efficiently. 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. So I think it's hard to try to put an Afghan template over Iraq. I don't think you'll be able to do that.

Senior Defense Official: There's a -- my view is that there's a couple of branches that could occur here. First of all, remember that this organization we would call the interim transitional civil administrator. And so the branches that could come off of that could be that one could have an international flavor. I think someone here raised the question of, will there be an international figure? That is one branch. This could, hopefully sooner rather than later, be internationalized to deal with this issue.

And the other branch is one that had a more U.S. face, but that was a civilian face, and interagency face so that you have more people from the other very capable departments of the U.S. government involved.

But if you look at this from our standpoint, it's a short term effort to get this started, just put the wheels in motion, and then to hand that off to one of those two branches. I think probably everybody would agree that a larger international face would be better than a smaller international face. It would deal with some of -- (name omitted) -- issues that he talked about in terms of, okay, who's going to pay the bills over time.

And I think the other thing is, everyone's focused on, you start with the oil program. Okay, the oil program feeds the food issue in the country, and you need to make sure it continues to feed that process. As he said, you got 60 percent of the people getting a large amount of their food out of that process. You can't shut it down and turn that revenue in some other direction, even if it's all for the Iraqi people. So you got to deal with that. But as you go forward, then, you know, the natural resources of the country begin to kick in.

Staff: We've got time for about two more questions, then we're going to have to run off.

Q: On the issue -- on the issue of free Iraqis, you said you're trying to hire a number of them to go to different provinces; you're hoping to have some of the (ministers ?). Could you talk a little bit more about who these people will be and what exactly -- how you're choosing them?

Q: And did you say they wouldn't be INC? You weren't seeking to hire them?

Senior Defense Official: Wouldn't be what?


Q: You said earlier -- INC.

Senior Defense Official: We haven't gone out to hire people from the INC, okay.

Q: You haven't.

[Clarification: DoD is not hiring or contracting with the Iraqi National Congress (INC) members as such, but some of the Iraqi expatriates working with DoD may be INC members. The INC has played an important role over the years in getting various Iraqi opposition groups to cooperate with one another. The U.S. government admires the INC's success s in organizing the endorsement by those groups of principles that the USG favors for the creation of a new democratic government for Iraq.]

Senior Defense Official: We have not, no. The free Iraqis -- it started out with the Michigan bunch, and it's kind of expanded now to free Iraqis throughout the United States, throughout Britain. There's -- we --

Q: (Off mike) -- the Michigan bunch --

Senior Defense Official: There's a lot of free Iraqis that live in Michigan. On that -- yeah.

Q: And are they trying to -- (off mike)?

Senior Defense Official: Yeah. And we've been contacted by Iraqis in Switzerland and Iraqis in Sweden, some in Germany.

First thing we do is we give them a fairly quick security check, to the degree that we can, for whatever knowledge we have on them.

The second thing we do is we don't bring them on for a very long period of time, because we don't want them in Iraq as competitors to indigenous Iraqis.

And the third thing is, the ones we talk to -- their kids were born -- a lot of their kids were born here. Their jobs are here. They want to come back here when it's over. They just want to go -- they want go back home. They want to help their country for a couple of months. And so what we've done is we've written a letter to their bosses, saying, "If this is a -- we need this person's skill set, talents, and we'd like for you to give them a leave of absence for a specified period of time," up to, I think, 120 days. But the boss picks out that period of time, or the Iraqi themselves.

Q: Are some of them from the State Department's Freedom of Iraq -- Future of Iraq Project? Do you know?

Senior Defense Official: Yes, we have Future of Iraq people.

Q: May I follow up on the month -- you said it would take a month to complete. Just exactly what are you envisioning in that month period? Is it -- and is it going to set the government on track in that month period? And who exactly is going to guide them on what sort of government to set up? Just U.S.?

Senior Defense Official: No. It'll be greater than that. We're -- the reason I kind of danced from you a little bit -- we're still coming up with the governance process. It's being worked right now in the interagency mechanism, with the deputies and principals.

[Clarification: U.S. policy is for the Iraqis to mange their own constitutional commission to devise their own governmental institutions. The U.S. government envisions a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq as being governed by broad-based, representative institutions that will put Iraq on a democratic path toward safeguarding the rights of all Iraqis.]

Q: So you're trying to come up with a sort of government for them?

Senior Defense Official: The deputies and principals will come with that, and we'll execute that --

Q: So on the international aspect, who would be the international face? It would be someone from the U.N.?

Senior Defense Official: I don't know.

Q: Would General Abizaid play a role? He has been mentioned in --

Senior Defense Official: Certainly eventually he will.

Q: Okay. And my --

Q: (Off mike) --

Q: Sorry. My second question, on international -- yesterday there were bids -- companies, U.S. companies, were mentioned for reconstruction. Would you be then open to other countries or -- in the second phase? Or how do you envisage that?

Senior Defense Official: I don't know the answer.

Senior Defense Official: I don't know the answer to that either. In fact I found out about that two days ago, when I heard it on NPR or something.

Q: (Laughs.)

Senior Defense Official: Our -- the one thing I want to try to do with that is, as you come contract for work in Iraq, it'll be our goal to make sure that you must first try to find a Iraqi subcontractor to do that. And the reason for that is to -- number one, is to begin to jump-start the economy; begin a process of economic development; and number three, to broaden the employee base for people to -- for more jobs.

Q: What are you going to do if you get in a region that already is fairly well-organized, like the Kurdish area? They come up after a war and they say, "Okay, these are the guys we want to have in charge. We've got" -- (off mike). You bring in your guy, and they say, "Uh-uh. Don't want him. We've got ourselves organized. We don't need your" --

Senior Defense Official: What guy are you talking about?

Q: Your free Iraqi person --

Senior Defense Official: We're not -- I should -- we're not doing that up north. We're not doing that in the Kurdish -- in the three Kurdish provinces.

Senior Defense Official: We're not bringing a free Iraqi person in there to run things. We're bringing him in as an advisor, a technical advisor, a technocrat; someone who can assist what's already there --

Senior Defense Official: A hometown boy or girl --

Senior Defense Official: -- help us shape what it ought to look like in the future. But not to be in charge.

Q: Will they maintain their autonomy, though, in the north?

Senior Defense Official: Well, there will be one unified Iraq when this is all over. Now, I would think that in the governance process, the differences between the three Kurdish provinces and the remaining 14 would be worked out as part of the new Iraqi government.

Q: But your people are not going in there -- you're not going in there at all?

Senior Defense Official: Sure we are. We'll be up there doing reconstruction and whatever humanitarian. But we're -- hey, but we're not going to tell the -- we're not going to try to re-design the ministry system and the governmental system that the Kurds have put in. We'll let the Kurds and Iraqis do that as they work out their own government.

Thank you, folks.

Thank you.