Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is urging President Bush to install an interim Iraqi government immediatelyeven as the war continues. The new authority would be made up of Iraqi opposition groups in exile, including the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmed Chalabi. Rumsfeld suggested that this step would be a way to turn international perceptions in the United States' favor.
Rumsfeld's request, outlined in two memos to the president this week, calls for the United States to "support those Iraqis who share the president's objectives for a free Iraq." In a section entitled "Strategy to Achieve These Objectives," the defense secretary makes the case that Iraqi and Kurdish expatriates are better equipped to take over Iraq than are opposition leaders still inside the country. Rumsfeld's reason: The exiles have experienced democracy while living in the West; the indigenous anti-Saddam Hussein forces have not.
The makeup and timing of a U.S.-backed interim government have been extensively debated at lower levels. The view expressed by Rumsfeld is hotly disputed by others inside the U.S. government, and the issues surrounding an interim government have become a real source of infighting between the Pentagon on one side and the State Department and CIA, which believe the expatriates have no credibility in Iraq, on the other. "They will be viewed as part of the American occupation," says one intelligence official.
As U.S. News reported in December, there was an interagency consensus against declaring an interim government and for giving only a supporting role to the opposition groups in exile. Now, on the heels of the rapid advance of U.S. forces, Rumsfeld is appealing to the president to reverse the policy and install an opposition-led Iraqi government. His memos come at a moment when Secretary of State Colin Powell is out of the country.
Rumsfeld's proposal is likely to infuriate European allies who oppose a U.S.-dominated administration of Iraq. The memosinsiders call Rumsfeld's writings "snowflakes" because he tends to issue one after anotherwere circulated only to top government officials: Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Senior government officials say Rumsfeld sent his first paper last Sunday. It was described as a two-page memo along with 11 pages of attachments.
Rumsfeld followed with a second memo Wednesday. It called for the president to ask Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of U.S. Central Command, to announce that the expatriates are in charge. Rumsfeld quotes Gen. George Patton to the effect that a good plan executed rapidly is better than a perfect plan executed too late. He then declares that the time has come for the planning to ceaseand the execution to begin.