Iraqis Need Work, Paychecks, U.S. Administrator Says
By Kathleen T. Rhem
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2003 – American officials are working to reconstitute Iraqi government ministries and get employees back to work and receiving paychecks, the man charged with getting Iraq running again said today.
Jay Garner, director of the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, said in a Baghdad press conference that he doesn't have a set time frame for the ministries to be functioning. "But I think it'll go faster than people think," he added.
Garner, a retired American Army lieutenant general, said he met with roughly 30 Iraqi educators, lawyers and doctors this morning and told them officials are working to find buildings for ministries that were destroyed and to refurbish those that weren't.
An international coordinator has been appointed for each ministry. "Now, that coordinator ain't gonna run it," Garner said in his characteristic down-to-Earth fashion. "The Iraqis are going to run the ministries."
He said it's important to get Iraqis back to work, particularly public servants. "As soon as (the Iraqis) can identify those people to us, we'll start paying their salaries," Garner said.
Garner's deputy, British Brig. Gen. Timothy Cross, piped up to add that many ministry coordinators and ORHA officials are not American but from other countries, including Australia and Japan.
"We are trying to internationalize the teams that will work with the ministries," he said. "And nobody is going to run those ministries other than the Iraqis themselves. I think we need to be absolutely clear about that."
Garner also spoke briefly about political unrest in Iraq. When a reporter asked if he's concerned about the possible creation of an Iranian-style Islamic government in Iraq, his response was, "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life."
"'Probably not,' is the answer," Cross added, to chuckles.
Garner has downplayed reports that suggest bigger problems are ahead for the American-led coalition because members of Iraq's Shiite majority are demonstrating against the American presence in their country. He has even suggested the demonstrations were a positive development.
"One month ago they would not have been able to demonstrate. Demonstrations are one of the properties of freedom," he said April 23 during a visit to Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdish-controlled north. "They are free to demonstrate; we don't discourage that."
Garner received a very warm welcome during his two-day visit to the Kurdish area. Local officials and citizens remember him as the American general who helped form their autonomous enclave in the early 1990s as part of his duties as the commander of Operation Provide Comfort.
The joint task force he commanded provided food and shelter to thousands of Kurdish refugees fleeing a crackdown by Saddam Hussein's regime.
"What you have done up here in the last 12 years is marvelous, and it is a wonderful start to self-government and democracy," he said during an April 22 town hall-style public meeting. "What you have done here can serve as a model for the rest of Iraq."
Throughout a four-day tour, which culminated in today's press conference, Garner has expressed confidence in the Iraqi people's ability to govern and provide for themselves.
After April 21 visits to a Baghdad hospital and an electrical plant, Garner noted the doctors and engineers are perfectly capable and are working hard, with American assistance, to restore their systems. They just need the right equipment, he added.
"I think what you see here is what you're going to see throughout the country," he said at the Baghdad South Power Station. "You're going to see the Iraqis fixing things themselves, and we're going to facilitate that.
"We're going to help them where we can, … provide them with supplies," he said. "Where we can get things for them, we'll do that."
During the visit to the power plant, a reporter asked Garner if he was the new ruler of Iraq. He said he's merely the coalition facilitator to help the Iraqis "pull things together" and begin to govern themselves.
"The new ruler of Iraq is going to be an Iraqi," he said. "I don't rule anything."