Reconstruction role for James Baker may herald return of the Bush old guard

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The Independent US

Amid chaos and danger in Iraq and the admission of unexpected difficulties in countering guerrilla resistance, the Bush administration may ask the former secretary of state James Baker to go to Iraq to help with reconstruction.

Mr Bush is considering asking Mr Baker, among his father's most trusted allies, to work alongside Paul Bremer, the head of the US-led civil authority. Mr Baker may be asked to concentrate on running Iraq's economy and the physical infrastructure while Mr Bremer focuses on developing an interim Iraqi administration.

Mr Baker has been a loyal friend of the Bush family, most recently running the President's campaign during the torrid days of the Florida recount in November, 2000. He also headed the failed re-election campaign for George Bush Senior in 1992. Some officials have indicated that by turning to Mr Baker, 73, the White House is displaying its awareness of the need to gain more international support for its reconstruction efforts. It is anticipated that Mr Baker would use his stature and contacts to try to build an international coalition. He was Secretary of State during the 1990-91 Gulf War.

Officials said Mr Baker, a senior figure along with Mr Bush in the Carlyle Group, a private investment firm, and a partner in a Texas law firm that represents US oil companies in the Caspian region, is among several high-profile names being considered for a role. It is not clear whether he would answer to Mr Bremer or vice versa, if he took the job.

The mention of his name and the wider overhaul being undertaken, underlines concern in Washington about the pace of change in Iraq and the continuing unstable and dangerous conditions. Last week, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, finally appeared to admit what many had been saying for months, telling reporters after his visit to Iraq that the administration had "underestimated the problem". He said some conditions "were worse than we anticipated".

Mr Wolfowitz insisted yesterday that the continuing casualties suffered by US forces would not undermine public support for the war. "The battle to secure the peace in Iraq is now the central battle in the war on terror," he said "The reports of deaths are terrible. Any American death is a terrible thing. But I think the American public understand that when you're fighting a war against terrorists, when you're fighting for the security of this country, that sacrifice is something that you'd have to expect."

He also predicted that the killing last week of Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, a 14-year-old grandson and one of the brothers' bodyguards, was encouraging Iraqi people to come forward with information helpful to the US forces. "I think what happened last week with the death of those two miserable creatures, is encouraging more people to come forward," he said.

In another part of the overhaul plan, revealed by The Washington Post, the White House has asked Reuben Jeffery, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, to take up a Washington-based position to co-ordinate the reconstruction effort.

Mr Jeffery, who is also co-ordinating the federal plan to rebuild lower Manhattan after the 11 September attacks, would become the Washington face of the administration's rebuilding efforts. His job would involve lobbying Congress and liaising with other parts of the government machine.

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