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ARLINGTON, Va. — Bush administration officials unveiled plans Tuesday for managing Iraq after a war, describing a scenario that would keep most of the country’s civilian officials in place, paying the Iraqi military to rebuild damaged infrastructure, and sending hundreds of “free Iraqi” expatriots to the provinces to act as liaisons with the U.S.-run “interim transitional civil administration.”

The reconstruction plans, which were described to reporters by two senior defense officials at a Pentagon briefing, were the first public glimpse of just how the U.S. government intends to manage Iraq after any war that eliminates Saddam Hussein.

The entire rebuilding effort, which is dubbed the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, is in the hands of the Pentagon, which was directed Jan. 20 by President Bush to set up an office for postwar planning.

The office, headed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, “started very slowly,” but there are now about 200 people from a variety of military and civilian agencies on its staff, a one of the officials told reporters.

The office’s goal is “to stay as long as necessary to be able to stand up a government of Iraq, and get out as fast as we can,” the official said.

Some of the office’s personnel are already in the Persian Gulf, preparing for an immediate entry into Iraq when the fighting stops, even though Bush has not declared war.

The group’s plans call for a single civil administrator deputy — Garner — to report to Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command.

Beneath Garner are three different U.S. coordinators, whose names a Pentagon spokesman said it would be “premature” to announce.

The trio includes a civil administration coordinator, who will deal principally with public health, law enforcement, commerce, foreign affairs, justice, education, agriculture, banking, and economic development; a humanitarian operations coordinator, who will deal with emergency relief, refugees, and civil affairs; and a reconstruction coordinator, who will be in charge of issues such as energy, power, roads and waterways.

Iraqi soldiers, who will be placed on the U.S. payroll, the official said, will do the actual rebuilding of Iraq.

“Our goal is to have a good portion of the Iraq regular army — not the Republican Guard — rebuild their own country,” the official said. “This also allows us not to demobilize immediately and put a lot of poor people on the street.”

A separate triad of U.S. coordinators will be in charge of the north, south, and central regions of Iraq, respectively, assisted by “over 100 free Iraqis” who now live in the United States, Great Britain, and elsewhere, the official said.

The expatriot Iraqis will be sent to 17 Iraqi provinces and to Baghdad to coordinate with local officials on the best way to rebuild and manage the regions, the official said.

The reconstruction office will also place “two or three free Iraqis with the right skill sets [and who] understand the democratic process” in each of Iraq’s existing government ministries, the officials said.

The free Iraqis will act as advisers and “facilitate” the ministry’s operation. But the ministries will continue to be run by indigenous Iraqis, he said.

Asked why Iraqis would ever accept a new government run by the same people who operate the ministries under Saddam Hussein, the official said, “There will be a vetting process” of ministry officials, “but we anticipate that the really bad people won’t be there when we get there.”

Recruiting and hiring the free Iraqis is going very slowly, the official said. “It’ll happen, but it’s not happening as fast as I had hoped,” he said.

And none of the free Iraqis hired so far come from the Iraqi National Congress, which is one of the most vocal opposition groups, the official said.

The Bush administration initially had high hopes that the INC would provide the core of a new Iraq government, but has grown frustrated with the group’s infighting, conflicts with other opposition groups, and refusal to voice unqualified support for U.S. plans for postwar Iraq.

The official declined to estimate how much the initial reconstruction will cost, but said Iraqi oil revenue might cover some of the tab.

Analysis:

Even a short war in Iraq would have a problem-filled reconstruction.(Click here for story.)

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