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U.S. Drafts 2 Very Different Proposals for Postwar Iraq

By Robin Wright

The Bush administration has outlined two strikingly different plans to run oil-rich but volatile Iraq if Saddam Hussein’s regime is toppled, according to U.S. officials.

One plan is a go-it-alone strategy that would force the United States to remain longer in Iraq to ensure that its stated goals of disarmament and democracy are fulfilled. While that plan would give Washington more control over what happens, it would almost certainly cost far more and make a larger U.S. military and diplomatic presence more vulnerable to backlash.

The other plan would share the burden of rebuilding Iraq, from purging police and army units to helping write a new constitution.

Under the second plan, the United States would transfer much of the authority and various other responsibilities to the international community after an initial U.S.-run administration lasting as briefly as three or four months. Washington has no set model in mind, the sources said, although the possibilities include the type of arrangements in the ongoing political transitions in Kosovo province and East Timor.

The administration strongly prefers the international burden-sharing option. In a speech Wednesday outlining the broader stakes in dealing with Iraq, President Bush said, “Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations.”

There are still so many unknowns that the administration is unsure which strategy is more likely to be used, although most planners have a strong preference for a major international component. But that may prove unattainable, especially if the war becomes particularly messy or protracted and other countries are loath to become involved in a post-invasion Iraq.

During his weekend swing through Asia, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell approached Japan about contributing to postwar reconstruction and told reporters that the Japanese response had been positive. The administration has held similar discussions with other nations, hoping to defray the steep costs.

But the scope of international involvement -- and what countries might be included -- could be heavily influenced by the outcome of a proposed U.N. resolution that would back the use of force to disarm Iraq, U.S. officials say.

If the resolution passes when it comes up for a vote in mid-March, then virtually any country willing to provide financial, humanitarian, reconstruction, technical or political assistance is likely to be welcomed, U.S. officials suggested Thursday.

But if the resolution is vetoed or doesn’t win the required nine votes for passage, then the international involvement could well be at least initially limited to the countries that become part of the so-called “coalition of the willing” to back the United States in forcibly disarming Iraq.

“There will be a variety of different missions for different nations” in that coalition, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday.

Some administration officials have argued that any country wanting to participate in the potentially lucrative reconstruction process, notably oil sector development, should back the United States on the use of force to oust Saddam -- effectively using postwar perks as either a financial incentive or political blackmail to win eventual backing.