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May 22, 2007

Departing Wolfowitz Names New Iraq Director

by Emad Mekay

The World Bank has just appointed a new country for Iraq despite security and corruption concerns, according to a leaked document.

The news emerged just days after outgoing World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz promised not make any major new appointments at the institution.

The Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, released an e-mail it says it obtained from sources inside the Bank showing Daniela Gressani, vice president for the Middle East and North Africa Region, making the announcement.

"I am pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Simon Stolp as country manager, Iraq," said Gressani in her e-mail [.pdf].

A World Bank official in the Middle East department who wished to remain unidentified confirmed the news to IPS.

Stolp, an Australian national, worked previously in Iraq as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense where he supported changes in the Iraqi electricity sector. In 2005, he was awarded the Joint Civilian Service Award by the Pentagon, which is granted to civilians who demonstrate high service "supporting the U.S. military."

A report issued in December by a seven-member panel of Bank experts who interviewed candidates for the job in Iraq said that after meeting Stolp, "the panel left uncomfortable as to whether he could become a credible, substantive (as compared to procedural) representative of Bank with Iraqi and Donor counterparts, on account of his weak analytical background, and lack of knowledge about the Bank."

The panel added: "Compared with candidates on other CM [Country Manager] short lists (e.g., Lebanon), Mr. Stolp would not place in the top third."

The Bank has not had a major presence inside Iraq since a bombing on Aug. 19, 2003, claimed the lives of Bank staffer Alya Sousa and 21 UN employees at the UN headquarters in Baghdad.

Since then, the Bank's operational work in Iraq has relied on regular meetings with Iraqis outside of Iraq and use of the Bank's video-conferencing facilities in Baghdad.

The World Bank runs its operation through the Bank's Interim Office for Iraq, which is based in Amman, Jordan. The office employs Iraqis for operations inside the country.

The new appointment, which has not yet been formally announced by the Bank, appears to confirm what many analysts have long suspected about Wolfowitz's relentless attempts to move the Bank back into Iraq – and to boost U.S. policy there – despite internal opposition and the continuing high security risk.

Although he has served for the last two years as president of the Bank, Wolfowitz is best known in many circles for his role as a primary architect of the ill-fated U.S. invasion of the Arab country and as a staunch neoconservative ideologue promoting U.S. military interventionist policies, especially in the Middle East.

In February, IPS reported that Wolfowitz had been secretly negotiating a contract with a new resident director in Iraq despite some objections from staff and the board of directors.

The same month, the Bank, still under Wolfowitz's management, also sought to quell news that a local staff member had been injured in Iraq, apparently for fear that the report might derail Wolfowitz's bid to recruit a new country director for Iraq.

Although Wolfowitz announced his resignation on May 18, the new development indicates that he is still attempting to steer the future course of the institution.

Through a series of documents leaked from inside the Bank, GAP helped disclose the favoritism scandal involving Wolfowitz's longtime girlfriend and colleague Shaha Riza that eventually led to his humiliating ouster. The group noted in a statement Monday that the new Iraq appointment contradicts a statement by Wolfowitz not to make any key appointments before his scheduled June 30 departure.

"The timing of this appointment is surprising. Although Paul Wolfowitz did not explicitly say he would 'recuse' himself from ongoing personnel decisions at this level, he strongly implied that he would do so," GAP said in a statement.

In a May 18 statement before the Bank's board looking into his misconduct, Wolfowitz said: "I believe all country manager and director personnel have been completed for the spring, so I have no expectation of being involved in these or any other personnel actions."

The appointment likely means the Bank will release new loans to the occupied Arab nation, despite the deteriorating security situation and recent disclosures of massive corruption in reconstruction efforts.

When Wolfowitz first came to preside over the Bank, an international development agency, in June 2005, there was an outcry at the board and among some staff because of his close association with planning the Iraq war, which has turned into a major humanitarian fiasco.

Senior Bank staff and some board members had expressed fears that Wolfowitz's right-wing ideological leanings would push the Bank toward more involvement in the controversial U.S. occupation of Iraq.

But for the past year and a half, Wolfowitz has kept a relatively low profile on the issue and tried to publicly tone down his ideological convictions.

Anticipating that Iraq could eventually assume a more prominent role at the Bank, the board has periodically issued official statements – a highly unusual measure – telling Wolfowitz that they want to be updated on any major plans for Iraq.

Simon Stolp, an Australia national, will manage the day-to-day affairs of the Bank in Iraq, monitor the Bank's lending portfolio there and manage the Bank's office and resident staff. His appointment is effective as of Monday, Gressani said in her e-mail.

Gressani did not return telephone calls from IPS for comment.

(Inter Press Service)

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