By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News Online
Once US-led military operations in Iraq are over, the country will be ruled by an American administrator for an undefined period of time. An agency set up under the auspices of the US Defense Department is starting to take charge of civilian matters for the foreseeable future.
A 200-strong team of former US military and other government agency personnel, humanitarian workers and Iraqi experts have assembled under the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
The man in charge is retired American General Jay Garner, an old friend of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He will be, in effect, de facto ruler of Iraq in the immediate post-war period and answerable to US war commander General Tommy Franks, who has ultimate authority.
ORHA's mission is to provide humanitarian assistance, work on reconstructing Iraq and prepare for the eventual creation of an interim government by the Iraqis themselves.
General Garner's team, which also includes some British civil servants, is preparing to cross into Iraq to overhaul everything from the country's currency - which features the likeness of Saddam Hussein - to power supplies, legal code, police service and schools.
It will also have the considerable task of establishing democratic institutions in a country that has never known them.
'Feeling their way'
The ORHA team includes people from the State Department and the US Agency for International Development who have worked in a similar capacity in the former Yugoslavia, in
Haiti, and in Somalia.
But, one key problem is a lack of on-the-ground knowledge - diplomatic ties with Iraq were broken off in 1990.
One of the main difficulties will be finding local officials who are not tainted by connections to the former regime to work with.
The civilian team will work alongside US and British military
Officials acknowledge they will be feeling their way. "In many ways we are learning as we go," said Major Jeff Jurgensen, an ORHA spokesman.
He said the organisation wants to earn Iraqis' trust by keeping up a steady flow of aid.
The ORHA was set up by the US Defense Department in March to deal specifically with a post-Saddam Iraq. About half a dozen key officials have been hand-picked by the Pentagon.
It has been secretive in nature, but, some details are known.
Its aim is to split the country into three regions and establish three administration centres - in the capital Baghdad, Mosul in the north and Basra, or Umm Qasr, in the south.
General Garner will be in overall control and is likely to move to Baghdad in the coming days. After the Gulf War, he oversaw US efforts to aid Kurds in the north of the country. His role has already become controversial in the Arab world. Two years ago, he signed a statement supporting Israel and accusing Palestinians of filling their children with hate. Arab and Muslim leaders say this raises questions about whether he is the right man for the job.
Bruce Moore, a retired general, will be in charge of the north.
Barbara Bodine, the former US ambassador to Yemen who served in Baghdad in the 1980s, will look after the central region, including Baghdad. Ms Bodine was held hostage at the US embassy in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War. She is reportedly one of a group of State Department Arabists who made it on to the team after the Pentagon rejected a number of former US ambassadors and diplomats.
Roger "Buck" Walters, another retired general and Texas businessman, will oversee the south. He is one of the group hand-picked by the Pentagon.
It is believed that each administration will have a core staff of around 12 people. They will be supplemented by "free Iraqis" - those who have been living in the US, the UK and other European countries, and do not represent a particular opposition group.
In theory, they will represent each of the 17 provinces of Iraq and Baghdad and will help run each of 23 ministries. They will, however, only be hired on short-term contracts, so that Iraqis inside the country can, eventually, take over.
General Garner will have three other deputies who will be in charge of broad areas:
humanitarian assistance - George Ward, a former US marine and ambassador to Namibia.
reconstruction - Lewis Lucke, a veteran of USAID.
civil administration - Michael Mobbs, a Reagan-era arms negotiator and Pentagon legal adviser.
General Garner's role in the reconstruction of the country has prompted Arab suspicion over Washington's motives - and one difficulty for the ORHA will be not to appear as though it is taking over the country. Some analysts say Iraqis would not tolerate an American governor for more than a couple of months.
One big question mark over the organisation is how long it will remain in Iraq.
General Garner has indicated that the ORHA will run Iraq for about three months after hostilities cease.
But General Buck Walters suggested it would stay in the
country for longer, telling BBC's Newsnight: "My tenure is probably somewhere near the end of the year - I took a one-year leave of absence - but this organisation
is going to be here for a while."
Areas under the ORHA's remit that could prove controversial are:
Rooting out the Baath Party: Under Saddam Hussein's rule, the party underpinned the country's monolithic power structure. There have been suggestions that the party could be "cleansed" and elements incorporated into the post-war administration. There could be key government and economic leaders who would be needed to help run the country. If it was clear that they had privately opposed Saddam Hussein, they could be given a general amnesty.
Managing the oil: ORHA will manage the contracts for foreign companies to increase oil production, but this could be one of the areas on which Washington would be judged on its behaviour. President Bush has said that oil resources will be used for the "benefit of its owners: the Iraqi people".
The ORHA has already run into problems, with opposition groups being split over its role.
The main Iraqi Shia group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), says it is boycotting a meeting planned for Iraqi opposition leaders, including exiles. It is to be one of the first meetings leading up to the establishment of an interim authority.
"We are not going to take part in this meeting in Nasiriya. We think this is part of General Garner's rule of Iraq and we are not going to be part of that project at all," Sciri's London representative, Hamid al-Bayati told Reuters.
Shia make up the majority of the population and analysts believe they could play a key role in the success of US plans.