U.S. unlikely to relax grip over Iraq soon

BAGHDAD Sept. 21. As the demand for Iraqi sovereignty gathers momentum, the United States is sending clear signals that it is in no hurry to yield ground unless it has laid the foundations for its long-term influence in Iraq.

U.S. occupation forces here appear to be geared for administrating Iraq at least till 2005, before allowing the United Nations, backed by key European countries, any prominent role in governance. The first major sign that it is not ready to accommodate any other foreign powers or organisation in running Iraq's affairs in any significant way emerged when the U.S. President, George W. Bush, declared his intent to pump in $87 billions into Iraq and Afghanistan. That would mean that Iraq would receive $20 billions in 2004. In other words, the U.S. occupation has declared that it does not require any major foreign funding at least till 2005, effectively denying others outside the U.S.-led coalition a leverage to shape events in Iraq.

U.S. officials have indicated that any important decisions taken by the upcoming Madrid international donors' conference in October are unlikely to take effect before 2005, giving Washington a clear window of opportunity to entrench itself in Iraq.

In seeking to consolidate in Iraq, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is emphasising construction of a modern physical infrastructure and creation of the right-leaning political, legal and intellectual environment in the country, which will benefit it in the future.

For instance, BearingPoint Incorporated of the U.S. is drawing up Iraq's future economic reforms framework, aimed at creating a competitive private sector that plays a central role in the national economy. The contract will have a bearing on how Iraq's central bank and Ministries of Finance, Trade, Commerce and Industry will run.

While Iraq has a new Minister for Oil, a U.S.-appointed board of international oil advisers is likely play a key role in defining a Washington-friendly policy in this field.

Phillip J. Carrol, the former chief executive of the Shell Oil Company and chairman of Fluor Corporation of the U.S. is heading this board.

In the area of education, primary and secondary education will be handled by the U.S.-based Creative Associates and there are plans to refashion Iraq's higher education system that develops institutional links with U.S. universities and think tanks. Iraq's public health programme will be steered by Abt Associates of the U.S. With infrastructure emerging as a focal area, Bechtel has been awarded the contract, which will include assessment and repair of Iraq's power generation systems, development of ports, airport buildings, railways, sewage works and municipal water systems.

Faced with mounting security problems, the CPA plans to spend $5 billions out of the $20 billions that it will acquire this year on raising an Iraqi army of 40,000. Vinnell Corporation of the U.S. had been put in charge of Iraqi army training.

In planning for a future reduction of its high profile presence in Iraq, the CPA is laying great emphasis on drawing up a new Iraqi constitution.

As of now, U.S. planners are unlikely to consider large-scale troop withdrawals until elections under the new constitution are held and details about a possible permanent U.S. military base in Iraq are finalised.

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