WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has chosen L. Paul Bremer, a former head of the State Department’s counterterrorism office, to become civilian administrator in Iraq and oversee the country’s transition to democratic rule.
Bremer’s selection, disclosed Wednesday by a senior U.S. official, will put him in charge of a transition team that includes retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner and Zalmay Khalilzad, the special White House envoy in the Persian Gulf region.
Bremer left the State Department, where he was an assistant to former secretaries William P. Rogers and Henry Kissinger, to join Kissinger Associates, a consulting firm studded with both Democrats and Republicans that held top U.S. government posts. Currently, Bremer serves as chairman and chief executive of Marsh Crisis Consulting company.
Overseeing the transition from rule by Saddam Hussein to Iraqi opponents of the deposed president is a tricky assignment in which the Bush administration is playing an aggressive role while also declaring it is up to a wide diversity of Iraqi groups to choose a new government.
Newsweek first reported Bremer’s selection on its Web site Wednesday. The report was confirmed by a senior U.S. official who declined otherwise to be identified.
The opposition groups have held two meetings and after a third one are expected to begin the process of transition at a conference of all contending forces. Secretary of State Colin Powell assured Congress this week that while the United States was playing a major role in Baghdad it seeks to turn over control of the country to Iraqis as soon as possible.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, has warned that the Bush administration would not permit an Iran-style Muslim fundamentalist government take charge in Baghdad.
For his part, Powell has said there is no reason to rule out a government rooted in the Muslim religion, citing Turkey and Pakistan as examples of democracies coexisting with the religion.
On Wednesday, Powell told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that Iran had been warned against trying to infiltrate Iraq to influence the course of a post-Saddam government.
The overthrow of Saddam by a U.S. led military coalition casts the Bush administration in the spot of trying to maintain order in Iraq and helps sort out competing and sometimes conflicting goals of Iraqis who opposed the old government from exile and others who remained in the country.
During a 23-year State Department career, Bremer served as special assistant or executive assistant to six secretaries of state. In 1999, Bremer was appointed chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism by House Speaker Dennis Hastert.