White House to expand role in Iraq recovery
Rice to take charge of coordinating council
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House announced plans Monday for an interagency coordinating council that will give it a more direct role in Iraq's reconstruction.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the plan represented a "new phase" in the rebuilding effort.
"This group can work to help cut through some of the bureaucracy and the red tape here in Washington so that we can make sure, as our efforts accelerate in Iraq, that [reconstruction forces there are] getting the full assistance from Washington," he said.
McClellan said the Iraq Stabilization Group would oversee four areas: fighting terrorism, developing the economy, overseeing political affairs and working with the news media. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice will head up the group.
Each area will have among its members undersecretaries from the State, Defense and Treasury departments, as well as senior staff from the CIA.
"Condi's team is going to make sure that the efforts [continue] to be coordinated so that we continue to make progress," President Bush said at a White House news conference.
The Pentagon will remain the lead agency, with L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, still reporting to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The announcement comes as the administration is looking to Congress for $20 billion in reconstruction and $67 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, responded to the White House announcement with a jab at the Bush administration.
"I have long argued that we needed better planning for Afghanistan and Iraq, and it's appalling that the president waited so long to take even this most basic step," Edwards said in a written statement.
He repeated calls for expanding the size and scope of the force in Afghanistan, and for doing a better job enlisting help from the United Nations and allies in Iraq.
Word of the reorganization comes amid encouraging progress reports about Iraqi reconstruction, but also as deadly attacks continue against coalition forces and Iraqi civilians.
At a cost of $140 million, 1,061 schools have been renovated and 723 more are awaiting final inspection and approval, according to the provisional authority. Slogans from the former Baathist regime and pictures of deposed President Saddam Hussein have been removed from the schools, the coalition said.
A provisional authority official told Reuters news service Monday that Iraq's electricity supply levels have exceeded levels from before the war.
But U.S. and other coalition soldiers continue to be at risk of attack from opposition fighters and explosive devices.
A total of 199 coalition military -- mostly U.S. forces -- have been killed in both hostile and nonhostile situations since the end to major combat operations was announced by President Bush on May 1, according to the Pentagon.
Iraqi civilians and United Nations officials have also been the targets of deadly attacks.
• The Turkish government agreed Monday to ask Parliament for approval to send troops to neighboring Iraq. The parliamentary vote could come as early as Tuesday. Turkey would become the first predominantly Islamic nation to contribute troops to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. (Full story)
• Iraq's Ministry of Communication announced Monday that AsiaCell Consortium, Orascom and AtherTel have been chosen to build the nation's first cell phone system and are expected to begin offering services within weeks. Construction of the mobile telephone systems will bring Iraq hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign investment, the ministry said.
• Iraq's Central Bank unveiled the country's new currency, which will have images of Iraqi historical figures instead of Saddam Hussein. The bills will go into circulation October 15 and Central Bank officials said Iraqis will have three months to exchange old money for the newly-designed bank notes. Ahmed Salman Mohammed, deputy governor of the Central Bank, displayed the notes, which will be available in six denominations -- 50, 250, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 25,000 dinars.
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, John Raedler, Bassem Muhi, David Ensor, Michael Holmes, Barbara Starr and Harris Whitbeck contributed to this report.