02 April 2003
Britain is playing down reports that a retired American general will lead Iraq's interim administration if and when coalition forces take control of the country. The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, says Iraqis and not Americans must lead a post-war government.
He spoke on British radio, where he played down a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper that retired U.S. General Jay Garner will lead an administration of 23 other American ministers, each with a team of Iraqi advisers. "The way American politics is, there is always speculation and there are things that sort of spill out. What we have agreed with the United States is that the post-conflict arrangements should be endorsed by the United Nations, so they have got to be acceptable to the United Nations, and what we will be seeking is a representative government and an interim Iraqi authority moving toward to a more representative government which is drawn from the Iraqi people," says Mr. Straw. "There could be advisers from other countries but there will not be foreign nationals running the Iraqi government. That is not the purpose of this action."
Media reports say Mr. Garner is waiting in Kuwait to move into Iraq once President Saddam Hussein is toppled. The retired general led a 1991 relief effort for Iraqi Kurds. There has been controversy about his ties to Israel and his work for a defense contractor that makes missile guidance systems.
In other developments, British officials are emphasizing the need to avoid civilian casualties as American troops resume their push toward Baghdad.
The British commander in the Gulf, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, says the war is entering a decisive phase. "Decisive phases often take time, so I wouldn't want to give you the impression that within a day or two this is going to be finished," he says. "We need to proceed with great delicacy in Baghdad as we did in Basra because we don't want to cause any more damage to the place than is necessary and we certainly don't want to add to civilian casualties."
Air Marshal Burridge says the experience of British forces in Belfast, in Northern Ireland, has given them valuable training in how to operate in a hostile urban environment, and he says that expertise is being shared with the Americans.