WASHINGTON — The United States is preparing to establish immediate sole control of postwar Iraq, initially without recourse to the United Nations, with a civilian administration under the direct command of the military, according to senior administration officials.
Even before American troops reach Baghdad, administration officials are assembling a team of civilian officials, largely retired American diplomats, to run Iraq as soon as the fighting is over.
The administration has decided that helping the country and its people recover after the war will require a civilian corps in place working with the military as it tries to establish security throughout the country.
European and Asian diplomats, while offering to help rebuild Iraq, raised questions last week about American plans to administer postwar Iraq without a central role for the United Nations.
While the issue is debated at the United Nations and the European Union, the administration is going ahead with its plans for a civil peacekeeping operation under the direction of Jay Garner, the retired general who directs the Pentagon's new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
Mr. Garner arrived in Kuwait last week. He is overseeing the intense recruitment of his staff and preparing to administer Iraq under plans drawn up over the last two months.
"People who got called on Monday or Tuesday last week got deployed on Sunday," said a retired diplomat who has been asked to serve in Iraq. "They want me to get out of here by Sunday."
Senior officials are quick to say this arrangement is only temporary — lasting, they hope, no more than a few months — until an interim Iraqi government is in place. They also said they were still debating how to work with the United Nations when the time comes for that.
"The model could be an interim Iraqi government working with the U.N. — we just don't know yet," said a senior administration official.
Bypassing the United Nations and setting up an American civilian peacekeeping administration under the military, however temporary, is a huge break from recent tradition and a denial of one of the United Nations' central roles since the end of the cold war.
But the United States may have no choice for the moment. Under international law, the United Nations may be unable to work under a military occupation force. While the United Nations can offer emergency relief for refugees, children, food distribution and humanitarian coordination, international officials say that the Geneva Convention would forbid long-term cooperation without approval from the Security Council.
"On the humanitarian side, we want to save lives no matter what," said Mark Malloch Brown, director of the United Nations Development Program. "When it comes to reconstruction, that's crossing a different Rubicon. We can't be authorized by a subcontract of the U.S. government. We have to be authorized by the Security Council."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Thursday that he was consulting with the United Nations to try to resolve some of these questions and devise a way to "put in place broad Security Council authority to help the people of Iraq."
The goal, according to an administration official, is to avoid a "bloated, inefficient civilian U.N. peacekeeping force," yet still encourage United Nations participation in postwar Iraq under the American administration.
The United States has contributed $105 million to international organizations, including the United Nations, to operate humanitarian programs in postwar Iraq.
Richard H. Solomon, president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, has worked with the administration on the postwar Iraq plans and said that officials were caught between two goals.
"This Pentagon doesn't want the military to get bogged down in extensive peacekeeping operations, but at the same time they don't want to make the classic American goof of winning a war and losing the peace," he said.
Mr. Garner's team is organized along the lines of a slimmed-down United Nations peacekeeping operation, with Mr. Garner taking the role normally played by powerful United Nations administrators, like Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special representative in Afghanistan.
His team includes three regional coordinators and coordinators for reconstruction, civil administration and humanitarian assistance. They will oversee everything from emergency relief and refugees to long-term planning for roads, rail and waterways as well as economic development and weeding out senior officials of the ruling Baath Party of Saddam Hussein.
A group of Iraqi expatriates will serve on an advisory council, according to the Pentagon.
The administration has sought retired diplomats with a history in the area.
Barbara Bodine, who was ambassador to Yemen in 2000 when the destroyer Cole was attacked, will serve in central Iraq.
George Ward, the former ambassador to Namibia, will oversee humanitarian aid.
Others who have tentatively agreed to serve under Mr. Garner include Kenton Keith, the former ambassador to Qatar and director of the Coalition Information Center in Islamabad, Pakistan, during the Afghanistan war; Robin Raphel, the former ambassador to Morocco, and Timothy M. Carney, former ambassador to the Sudan.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company