With war still raging, the State Department is planning to hold a “Baghdad Conference” a mere six weeks after the conflict ends to determine an interim leadership and to establish a framework for its new government—something that many inside the administration fear could give the House of Saud undue influence in a post-Saddam Iraq. The plan is modeled after the Bonn Conference, which Zalmay Khalilzad, now U.S. special envoy to Iraq, oversaw to prepare a transitional government that eventually succeeded the Taliban.
Administration officials and various outside experts agree that a Baghdad Conference, if it happens, would be simply the latest attempt by State to undermine the umbrella organization of democratic Iraqi opposition groups, the Iraqi National Congress (INC).
State is already placing—or attempting to place—pro-Saudi individuals in important positions in a post-Saddam Iraq:
· Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Maura Harty recently tapped Beth Payne—who one senior State official says “enjoys a cozy relationship with the Saudis,” even though her job has been to recover abducted American children trapped in the desert prison—to take over the consular section at the new Baghdad embassy.
· State last month forced the Pentagon to appoint longtime diplomat Barbara Bodine—who temporarily refused the FBI entry into Yemen to investigate the U.S.S. Cole—to be civilian administrator in Baghdad. Bodine has extensive ties to Iraqis—but not the right ones. Notes a senior administration official, “She only knows the Ba’athists, because that’s who she dealt with, and she’s never bothered getting to know the democratic opposition very well.” With a long career centered mostly in the Middle East, administration officials describe Bodine as an Arabist who favors traditional, “stable” Arab regimes—the kind where democracy does not flourish.
· State’s top pick for ambassador to the post-Saddam Iraq is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker, who shares Bodine’s worldview.
But State may not get Bodine into Baghdad; the Pentagon is pushing back to get someone else in that position. And Crocker will undoubtedly run into opposition from the White House, where the President’s vision of a democratic Iraq is diametrically opposed to Crocker’s view of the Arab world.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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