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Who's Going To Be In Charge?

Work continues on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009, in Oakland, Calif. The bridge has been closed indefinitely after a rod installed during last month's emergency repairs snapped, causing a traffic nightmare for the 280,000 motorists who cross the landmark span daily.
AP Photo/Ben Margot
In his latest Diplomatic Dispatch, CBS News State Department Reporter Charles Wolfson dissects the maneuvering for control of post-war Iraq.

It seems as though everyone who does not have an active role in the shooting war is just as heavily engaged in fighting to see who will control Iraq after Saddam is finally removed from power. The weapons may be diplomatic, bureaucratic and political in nature instead of smart bombs, M1-A1 tanks and humvees, but the stakes for the civilians are every bit as important — some say more important -- to the ultimate outcome of the war.

Washington's erstwhile allies in Paris, Berlin and Moscow are once again lined up against the Bush administration and its chief coalition partner, Britain's Tony Blair.

The biggest question is how large a role the U.N. will play in the post-Saddam era of reconstruction; Washington and London looking to a smaller role, others outside the coalition preferring a much larger U.N. role.

Most of the debate at this time is behind the scenes, although both sides made their positions quite public during meetings in Brussels this week which Secretary of State Colin Powell attended.

Even the Bush administration sees some role for the U.N. Many officials in Washington and at the U.N. in New York predict it will end up handling the bulk of humanitarian aid which Iraqis will need in coming months. Many of Washington's allies -- including Tony Blair's government -- will find it much easier to participate in post-war aid efforts if there is general agreement that the aid is approved by, or administered through an organization like the United Nations. That would take the sting out of participating in a U.S.-run post-war administration, most especially if it's being run by American military officials.

Washington has indicated it is open to a U.N. role, but has declared its view is based on a variation of the old saying "to the victor belong the spoils." Late this week, Powell told reporters in Washington "the U.N. will be a partner in all of this. There is no disagreement about that." Earlier, in Brussels, he repeated what he told Congress last week, forecasting a lead role for Washington since "it was the coalition that came together and took on this difficult mission at political expense, at the expense of the treasury, the money that it costs, but at the expense of lives as well."

France's Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, after meeting with Powell in Brussels, said "we believe the U.N. should have a central role to play."

The big fight will be over reconstruction aid, rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure including its oil sector. That's where billions, even tens of billions in contracts will be up for grabs and the Bush administration , along with its closest allies, will fight to get the largest share of the pie. Here the administration is likely to find strong support from Congress, which will not be anxious to see French, German and Russian firms benefiting from reconstruction contracts when their governments did not support the war to oust Saddam Hussein.

For the moment, control over Iraq's oil revenues have been given to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan until mid May. After that, there will be a struggle over whether the U.S. military commanders take control or whether they remain under U.N. control.

There will also be smaller skirmishes, out of the public eye for the most part. In Washington there are significant differences of opinion between the Pentagon and the State department over who will end up running Iraq until Iraqis can take over at some unspecified time in the future. Congress has taken $2.5 billion in money to rebuild Iraq away from the Pentagon and given it to the Secretary of State to manage. State prefers to see more civilians take a leading role and some kind of role for the U.N. The Pentagon is less inclined to see the U.N. in a strong role, and is pushing its own list of Iraqi ex-patriates who are out of favor with the State department.

Iraqis themselves have their own battles to wage. Should Iraqis hand-picked by Washington take over the reins of power, installed by Washington, or will Iraqis from inside the country be able to play leading roles? Will Iraqi Kurds get their share of power and how about the Shi'a of southern Iraq? What influence will Shi'a mullahs, some with their own armed militias, in neighboring Iran play? All of this has yet to play itself out and the Bush administration is more than aware of the problems disgruntled factions can cause.

One thing is clear: the U.S. military will run the show in the immediate aftermath of victory. What is anything but clear is how long the military administration of Iraq will last and whether it will be followed by an American, civilian administration, a transitional American-Iraqi group, or by some group of Iraqis themselves.

So, while generals, colonels, and sergeants direct one kind of battle plan, another set of plans -- bureaucratic and politically-driven -- is being fought over by White House officials and by Deputy Secretaries, Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries of State and Defense.

Charles Wolfson

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.