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U.S. civilians take on greater role in Iraq

From Chris Plante
CNN Washington Bureau

Bremer and Bush
Bremer with President Bush before leaving for the Middle East.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is putting a civilian face on its efforts to rebuild Iraq and attempts to find banned weapons, a senior Defense Department official told CNN Sunday.

Former U.S. diplomat L. Paul Bremer III, now in the Persian Gulf region, will take over as administrator of the U.S.-led reconstruction effort in Iraq "within weeks," replacing retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the official said.

Bremer, appointed presidential envoy to Iraq by President Bush on Tuesday, traveled to Qatar this weekend with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard B. Meyers to begin that transition process, according to the official.

The official said a transition of sorts also will take place in the hunt for Iraq's suspected nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs when the more civilian-oriented Iraqi Survey Group replaces the Pentagon's 75th Exploitation Task Force.

In addition to Garner's departure, senior officials said Barbara Bodine, U.S. coordinator for central Iraq in charge of Baghdad, will leave her position Sunday after just three weeks on the job.

Bodine, who effectively was the interim mayor of Baghdad, will take a job at the State Department in Washington, they said.

But the officials would not directly link her departure -- or Garner's -- with recent criticisms of the interim administration's performance.

"[Bodine] was only committed for a couple of months," a State Department official told CNN. "She wasn't going to be there forever. It is one of those cycle things."

The official said Bodine, who was ambassador to Yemen during the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, will join the political-military affairs bureau of the State Department where she will help negotiate treaties to resolve competing claims over investigation and prosecution of criminals.

Garner was criticized for waiting too long before arriving in Baghdad and for allowing Iraqi antiquities to be stolen.

Bush administration sources told CNN they hope Bremer, with his 23 years of diplomatic service, will be more politically astute in handling expectations in Washington and in Baghdad.

Bremer, a former ambassador and counterterrorism specialist for the State Department, now faces the daunting task of creating the foundation for future democracy in Iraq and rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure.

The senior defense official said "it has been the plan all along that once Bremer got his feet on the ground" that Garner would give up his role.

Garner said early on he expected his term would last about three months, but the transition comes at a time that would cut that to about two months.

The official conceded a perception problem had become an issue, at least in the United States, because Garner is a retired U.S. military officer.

In terms of the "over-arching structure" of the U.S. effort to bring about a new Iraqi government, the official said, many in the United States felt "the face of it should be civilian" rather than military.

Further conceding that some friction existed between the State Department and the Defense Department, the senior official said Bremer, given his background, is "one of the few people that could bridge that gap" between the two power centers.

Civilians join weapons search

The search for the banned weapons, which until now has been led by the Pentagon's 75th Exploitation Task Force, has so far not produced proof of Iraq's suspected efforts to acquire or build illegal weapons, and the military mission to survey suspected sites is winding down.

"Some aspects of the 75th" will return home or be reassigned to other missions in Iraq, according to the official, and other elements "will be subsumed into" the still emerging Iraqi Survey Group, the senior defense official said.

Barbara Bodine in an undated file photo.
Barbara Bodine in an undated file photo.

The ISG will be composed of about 1,000 weapons experts who are still assembling in Iraq, the official said.

It will include experts in all of the weapons categories, nuclear, biological and chemical as well as missile technology. About 12 of the experts will be former U.N. weapons inspectors, all of them from the United States.

Scores of suspected sites "exploited" by the 75th have not provided the "smoking gun" the administration has been hoping for.

The unit did announce last week that trucks discovered in northern Iraq are almost certainly mobile biological weapons laboratories like the ones Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to in a presentation to the United Nations prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Testing of the vehicles is continuing.

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