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Questions About Postwar Boss

Jay Garner
AP
The retired Army general who will oversee the rebuilding of Iraq signed a statement that accused Palestinians of filling their children with hate and that praised Israel — comments that could complicate his new job in the tinderbox Persian Gulf.

Arab and Muslim leaders say retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner's involvement with the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs — including the document he signed and a trip he took to Israel — raises questions about whether he is the right person to oversee Iraq's reconstruction.

"I honestly think when Iraqis find out (about the statement) they are going to be genuinely appalled," said Hussein Ibish, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Garner was one of more than 40 retired U.S. military leaders to sign his name to a letter 2½ years ago amid renewed Mideast violence. The letter strongly supported Israel for exercising "remarkable restraint" and blamed the crisis on Palestinian leaders.

A Palestinian tactic to "use civilians as soldiers in a war is a perversion of military ethics," the statement said.

Palestinian leaders taught children the mechanics of war while "filling their heads with hate," and Palestinian police and military commanders were "betting their children's lives on the capabilities and restraint" of Israeli defense forces, the statement added.

The Palestinians are "callously using the inevitable casualties as grist for their propaganda mill," it said.

Garner, who 12 years ago oversaw U.S. efforts to aid Kurds in northern Iraq after the first Gulf War, is among more than 250 retired American military officers who have traveled to Israel with JINSA over the years. Garner, 64, served two tours in the Vietnam War and was the commanding general of the Army Space and Strategic Defense Command before retiring in 1997.

The three-decade-old JINSA, which aims to educate the public about American defense policy and officials about Israel's importance, said the statement and Garner's travel to Israel should have no bearing on his new job.

"A distinguished general spends 31 years of his life in the military and because he spent 10 days of his life in Israel, they question his ability to serve the president in Iraq," JINSA spokesman Jim Colbert said Tuesday.

Some Arab critics predict Garner's selection for the reconstruction job by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will be met with strong objections in the Middle East.

"There have been well over 2,000 Palestinians killed in the past 2½ years and the Iraqis know who killed them," said University of Chicago Professor Rashid Khalidi, who specializes in Middle Eastern history.

Sarah Eltantawi, spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, called the choice of Garner "very unwise — it will not reinforce among the Iraqis the sentiment that their leadership is representative."

Garner probably will respond to such criticism when he begins holding news conferences in Kuwait, where he is setting up his operations, said spokesman Capt. Nathan Jones.

Richard Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian relations during the Reagan administration, said, "The assumption unfortunately in Iraq and in the region is that we're in Iraq to seize oil and push it to sign a peace treaty with Israel."

That assumption is "a challenge to all of the people sent out there" including Garner, Murphy said.

In the end, Iraqis will judge Garner on the job he does on their behalf, not by a statement he signed more than two years ago, said Murphy.

The statement strongly urged America to remain "a friend of Israel" in the face of the Palestinian uprising while remaining a facilitator in the efforts to bring peace to the region.

"The Palestinian-initiated violence in Israel now strongly tells us that the necessary good faith is sorely lacking on the Palestinian side," the statement added.

By Pete Yost