White House Revamps Iraq Mission

A group of former Iraqi soldiers, demonstrating over rumors their pay would be cut off, are pushed away by American Army soldiers in the western part of Baghdad on Sunday Oct. 5, 2003. On Saturday, a group of former Iraqi soldiers clashed with coalition troops in Baghdad and in the southern city of Basra in riots that left two Iraqis dead and dozens injured.
With Congress chafing over the $87 billion price tag and polls showing growing doubts about the mission, the White House is asserting more direct control of reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a newspaper reports.

The New York Times in Monday editions reports that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will head an Iraq Stabilization Group that will take over some authority from the Pentagon, which currently directs efforts in Iraq, and from the State Department, which is in charge in Afghanistan.

According to the newspaper, the organizational shift is a result of frustration by President Bush at the continuing discord in Iraq and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The group will consist of committees on terrorism, economic development, political affairs and public relations, staffed by officials from the departments of State, Defense and Treasury as well as the CIA.

In other developments:

  • Turkey's Cabinet agreed to send troops to Iraq to help stabilize the country — a decision that could relieve U.S. operations in Iraq and help Turkey mend frayed relations with the United States. There was no information on how many soldiers the government plans to send. However, officials have said the United States requested some 10,000 troops.
  • In Baghdad, U.S. troops fired in the air to disperse hundreds of ex-soldiers who gathered for a third straight day to complain they had not been paid as promised. Coalition officials said more than 320,000 former Iraqi soldiers had received one-time payments of $40 after the army was disbanded but some Iraqis were refused payment because they could not prove they had been in the military.
  • In an interview published by The Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the United States now faces the possibility of a prolonged and futile war in Iraq similar to the one that the Soviets fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
  • The United States is looking for new ideas to get other countries involved in the reconstruction of Iraq after United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan threw a proposed resolution into doubt when he reportedly ruled out a U.N. political role as long as U.S. and British forces are running Iraq.
  • The U.S. military has shut down Camp Cropper, an increasingly notorious makeshift prison where hundreds of Iraqis were crowded into tents through Baghdad's scorching summer, a U.S. official reported. The detainees were scattered to other facilities.
  • American troops were in battle mode on the streets of Beiji, after a weekend of fighting and riots between pro-Saddam Hussein demonstrators, Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers in the important oil refining city north of Baghdad.

    The violence began Saturday after a peaceful demonstration against Ismail al-Jabouri, the American-appointed police chief. A policeman approached one demonstrator and tore a Saddam picture from his hand, triggering the riot, Saleh said.

    Residents said about two dozen mostly young men with their faces covered with Arab headdresses fought with local police. In the continuing melee, armed men with Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and grenades attacked three Turkish fuel tanker trucks, two of which were totally burned.

    Former police Maj. Ashraf al-Qaifi said and the other witnesses interviewed by The Associated Press estimated between 1,000 and 2,000 young and very well-armed men engaged the police and the U.S. soldiers.

    One who demonstrated, 23-year-old Jamal Saleh, said on Monday that he recognized many of the fellow demonstrators as members of the Saddam Fedayeen militia. Saleh said demonstrators carried pictures of Saddam and chanted "We sacrifice our blood for you."

    The rioting resumed Sunday morning. Al-Qaifi, the former police major, said he saw men who had fought police the night before firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the mayor's office.

    Police headquarters, heavily fortified with sandbags and barbed wire, also was attacked before fighting ended early Sunday afternoon, only to resume after sundown and continue until well after midnight Monday.

    Residents reported hearing late-night battles with rocket-propelled grenades, grenades and light arms.

    At midday Monday a dozen young men, some looking as young as mid-teens, gathered menacingly on the main road in Beiji where the police headquarters and city council buildings are located. Ahmed Samran, and 18-year-old policeman, said that most of Beiji's 300-strong police force fled the city Saturday.

    American soldiers crouched behind machine guns in firing positions. There were U.S. snipers on the roof of the burned out police station and Bradley fighting vehicles patrolled the city. Apparently to appease the angry citizenry, the U.S. command in the region reinstated Hamid al-Qaifi, the former police chief who had been elected by tribal leaders after Saddam's ouster.

    The U.S. has been seeking soldiers from Turkey as well as India, Pakistan and South Korea to bolster 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he has given up hope of getting Indian soldiers to help coalition forces secure Iraq, while Pakistan has said it will send its troops only under a U.N. mandate.

    The Turkish Cabinet's decision now faces a tough approval from parliament, which is likely to vote on the issue this week. If approved, Turkey would become the first predominantly Muslim nation to contribute troops to Iraq.

    The Turkish public was overwhelmingly opposed to the war in Iraq, but Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in favor of contributing troops to help improve ties with the United States.

    The Cabinet decision came after Turkey received assurances from the State Department's counterterrorism chief, Cofer Black, last week that the United States would remove the threat posed to Turkey by Turkish Kurdish rebels of the autonomy-seeking Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, based in northern Iraq.

    U.S. officials did not rule out the use of military force. The United States has designated the PKK, which now goes by the name of KADEK, as a terrorist organization.