The Bush administration was scrambling to finalize an interim government for post-war Iraq yesterday, amid a turf war pitting the Pentagon and the Vice-President's office against the State Department and Congress in Washington.
The battle concerns not only the American officials who will supervise the new ministries, but the role of exiled Iraqi leaders and the extent of United Nations involvement. Above all, it is a struggle between Colin Powell's State Department and the Pentagon of Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, supported by Dick Cheney, the Vice-President.
With victory in Iraq in sight, the names of the Americans who will supervise new ministries to replace the existing 23in the crumbling regime of Saddam Hussein are still far from certain. Last week the Pentagon vetoed a State Department list of eight nominees, but whether the rejection is final is not clear.
In Kuwait, a group of potential US "ministers" is waiting to learn if it will be working under Jay Garner, a retired American general designated head of non-military operations in immediate post-war Iraq. These officials include former US ambassadors to Arab countries such as Barbara Bodine, a former envoy to Yemen, and Timothy Carney, who served in Sudan and Robert Reilly, a former director of the Voice of America radio station. A number of British officials are said to be working with them
Mr Reilly is said to be working with Iraqi exiles on broadcasting arrangements in the future Iraq. But other possible "ministers-in-waiting" have been marooned in Washington by the disputes between the Pentagon and the State Department.
A candidate to run the Information Ministry – at least in the eyes of the Pentagon faction – is James Woolsey, a former CIA director in the Clinton administration and among the earliest and most vocal advocates of force to topple President Saddam.
Mr Woolsey is also a strong supporter of Ahmed Chalabi, the most high profile of the Iraqi opposition leaders in exile, for an important role in post-war Iraq. But in recent days a new front in the Washington bureaucratic war has opened up over Mr Chalabi.
Mr Rumsfeld, in an attempt to outmaneuver the State Department, which is deeply suspicious of Mr Chalabi, sent memos to President George Bush urging that an interim government led by exile leaders be set up in coalition- controlled southern Iraq, irrespective of what happened in Baghdad. Mr Rumsfeld's move is likely to meet powerful objections from the State Department, which doubts Mr Chalabi has much support inside a country he left as a child of 11 in 1956.
But the move spotlights the deep uncertainty over which Iraqis should be involved in the ministries, and the balance between exiles and civil servants who held senior positions under the Saddam regime.
The quarrelling in Washington is also an increasing concern to neutral Iraqi figures, who see it not only as a distraction from the task of rebuilding, but as a sign that, for all the assurances to the contrary, Washington does indeed have neo-colonialist designs.
On Thursday, Congress entered the fray on General Powell's side, when the Senate and House of Representatives insisted the State Department should have full control of the $2.5bn (£1.6bn) reconstruction money contained in the $80bn emergency war spending bill due to be sent to Mr Bush for signature next week. A Senate bill explicitly forbids the $2.5bn being used "for any Department of Defense activity".
General Powell said this week that "coalition members" – primarily the US – would perforce take early charge in Iraq. But he has sounded much more open than the Pentagon to greater UN involvement later on.
Ultimately the wrangling will probably have to be resolved by Mr Bush. His decisions will shape foreign perceptions of US intentions in Iraq. They will also determine whether foreign policy is conducted by the State Department or its traditional rival department across the Potomac river.
The contenders fighting for control
Paul Wolfowitz The deputy secretary of Defense, and leading neo-conservative in the Bush administration, who for a decade has advocated forcible regime change in Iraq.
Barbara Bodine A former US ambassador to Yemen when the USS Cole was attacked in October 2000. She refused to allow the controversial top FBI anti-terrorist investigator John O'Neil into the country.
Timothy Carney US ambassador to Sudan from August 1995 to November 1997, and closely involved in unsuccessful American efforts to apprehend Osama bin Laden, then living in Sudan.
James Woolsey A former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and senior US arms control negotiator. Director of the CIA from 1993 to 1995 in the Clinton administration and a long-time hawk on Iraq.
Jay Garner Retired US army general, close to the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Helped direct Operation Provide Comfort to Iraqi Kurds in 1991. He will head the interim administration of Iraq.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd