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Man who would be "king" of Iraq

Oliver Morgan on Jay Garner, the hawkish head of the Pentagon agency that will be handling lucrative reconstruction deals

Sunday March 30, 2003
The Observer


President, viceroy, governor, sheriff. It is difficult to know what to call Jay Garner, the retired US general who will run Iraq if and when Saddam Hussein is deposed.

The 'call me Jay' 64-year-old would prefer 'co-ordinator of civilian administration'. That's the bland description of his job heading the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the Pentagon agency preparing to govern Iraq's 23 million people in the aftermath of war, provide humanitarian support and administer the lucrative business of reconstruction.

Garners credentials are intriguing. He has a fine record in United Nations-backed humanitarian operations, playing a senior role in protecting the Kurds of northern Iraq from Saddam after the 1991 Gulf war in Operation Provide Comfort. Crucially he is now out of khaki, a vital counterpoint to General Tommy Franks, who is likely to act as a US military governor. On the other hand, he is closely linked with the group of hawks centred on US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (who gave him his latest job), his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney, who are as keen to bypass the UN in the aftermath of war as they were before it.

He appears to share their strong pro-Israeli views. He has been involved in formulating their more controversial defence policies, including the US national missile defence system that has done much to undermine the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty. The company he now works for is a missile specialist and makes money from systems deployed in Israel and by coalition forces in Iraq.

With this background, the aid agencies are equivocal about his role. Phil Bloomer of Oxfam says: 'Iraqis should run Iraq and in the transition the UN should be in charge, not the US. A worst-case scenario would be to put in charge of Iraqi reconstruction someone from the US or UK who was linked to the arms or oil industries.'

Garner's view of the effectiveness of the US military in a humanitarian role was made clear during Provide Comfort. The army, he said, was the merciful instrument in shaping future humanitarian operations. But Provide Comfort was carried out under very different circumstances. The war it followed was mandated by UN Security Council resolutions, as was the humanitarian mission.

Today, relations between Garner and the UN appear strained, as was clear at a frosty meeting earlier this month, when he explained his role before departing for Kuwait. 'There was no co-ordination or consultation,' said one UN official. 'That would be inappropriate from the UN's point of view because its operations are autonomous; we do not need to consult with the US. But also from the US position, because it is common knowledge that they want to go it alone without the UN.'

Despite movement towards a UN role in reconstruction through a new resolution extending the Oil For Food programme, officials have deep suspicions about US intentions, particularly those of Garner's friends. 'Powell [pro-UN Secretary of State] has already lost the battle,' said one. 'It is clear that Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest have the ascendancy and they think, having gone it alone in the war, they should get the benefit of being seen as liberators. Garner is their man. He is a true believer.'

Beyond the strong Pentagon links of an ex-military man, Garner's political constituency is with the Republican right. His contacts with the Vice President go back to Provide Comfort, when Cheney was defence secretary to the first Bush, while his relationship with Rumsfeld has been sealed through recent close co-operation on missile defence policy.

These links have provoked unease among companies outside the US, which believe that the Americans want to carve up reconstruction contracts among themselves, regardless of any UN role. A subsidiary of Cheney's old company, Halliburton, has recently secured a deal to put out oil well fires. Halliburton, and Bechtel, another company with strong Republican links, were on a US-only shortlist for a major $900m reconstruction contract that will be overseen by Garner's office.

After strong lobbying from UK companies, the DTI agency Trade Partners UK managed to get a British secondee into Garners office, and Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt lobbied the US government to include the British.

But contractors say ORHA is not responding to requests for contact. 'We have worries about this,' said one. 'There is a huge row going on behind the scenes about Halliburton and Bechtel winning deals, and we can't talk to the people on the ground.'

But there are wider concerns, particularly Garner's work with Rumsfeld, his commercial activities, and views on Israel. Rumsfeld headed the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, which reported to the US Congress in 1998. The Rumsfeld Commission singled out three countries threatening the US with ballistic missile development - North Korea, Iran and Iraq - thus defining the axis of evil that underpins the US's pre-emptive strategy.

Garner served on Rumsfeld II, which effectively extended missile defence into space. He was involved in the deployment of Patriot missiles in Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, and was commander of the US Army Space and Strategic Defense Command from 1994 to 1996.

When Patriot's effectiveness was questioned at a 1992 congressional hearing, Garner dismissed critics, saying 40 per cent of engagements in Israel and 70 per cent in Saudi Arabia were successful.

However, Ted Postol of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, who gave evidence at the hearing, said: 'We believe that these figures are too high, and that it may be the case that zero engagements in Israel were effective. Garner may have been involved in covering up the deficiencies of the system.'

Garner is now commercially involved in the latest version of Patriot, currently deployed in Iraq. He is president of SY Coleman, a missile systems contractor that gives technical advice and support on the running of the programme. Israel is now protected by a new system called Arrow. SY Coleman is involved here too: Garner helped oversee development work, a programme that Postol estimates was 80 per cent funded by the US.

Jack Tyler, SY's senior vice-president for business development, confirmed it had worked both on Patriot and Arrow. However, he said, there was no procurement, sale or royalty to the company from the systems, only advisory fees.

Tyler dismissed suggestions that Garner was hired because of his defence contacts, saying his role was that of a strategic planner. SY has strong relationships with the then US government. In 1999 it won a Star Wars contract worth up to $365m to provide the US forces with advice on space and missile defence. The SY website lists a series of government logistics and R&D contracts.Meanwhile, SY was bought by another company, L-3 Communications, last year. L-3 is the ninth-largest contributor to US political parties in the defence electronics sector. Last week it was awarded a $1.5bn contract to provide logistics services to US special operations forces.

Garner's links with Israel are not limited to missile programmes. In October 2000 he put his name to a statement that said that 'Israel had exercised remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian Authority'.

The organisation behind the statement was the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which includes Cheney and Richard Perle, another arch-hawk, among its advisers past and present.

Only last week Perle resigned from the chairmanship of a key Pentagon committee advising Rumsfeld, after it emerged that he had struck a deal with bankrupt telecoms company Global Crossing under which he stood to receive up to $725,000. The deal is being reviewed by a government group that includes Defense Department officials.

There is no suggestion that Garner might feel similarly compromised by past association and some find the anti-Garner arguments overstated.

Eric Schwartz of Washington's respected Council on Foreign Relations think-tank says: 'I am not sure this is a US go-it-alone guy. He understands the critical importance of it not being the military doing the nation-building.' Schwartz believes that, after an interim period, the UN will take control of critical issues in Iraq's future, such as drawing up a constitution and overseeing elections.

It will be for Washington to decide whether the Sheriff of Baghdad wears a US or a UN star. His record suggests he would be equally happy in either. Its how he uses the badge that counts.



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