Byline: Betsy Pisik, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
UMM QASR, Iraq - Jay Garner, the retired Army lieutenant general who would head a transitional administration in Baghdad, praised coalition efforts yesterday during his first visit to Iraq since taking on the assignment.
Gen. Garner dropped in on short notice on an Army unit responsible for reconstructing vital infrastructure in Umm Qasr, southern Iraq's deep-water port, through which more than half of Iraq's international assistance must arrive.
"The Brits are doing great. We're doing great together," he said after a half-hour briefing by U.S. and British military officials responsible for the initial reconstruction. "We're getting a handle on this."
Gen. Garner's visit to Umm Qasr was very short and was not publicly announced in advance. Members of his staff suggested that security concerns were partly behind the brevity and stealthiness of the trip.
"He was here to see things personally and get a feel for the operation," said Col. Dave Blackledge, who commands the Army's 354th Civil Affairs Brigade, which is based for the moment in Umm Qasr. "This is the first place for stability and reconstruction."
Umm Qasr, a port town of 40,000, was the first Iraqi population center to fall to coalition forces. The rehabilitation of the port is considered a high-profile priority to show the Iraqi people that the war is not against them, but against an oppressive and corrupt regime. Skilled laborers here may earn $5 a day if they can find work.
Mr. Garner was last in Iraq in 1991, when he was the commander of Operation Provide Comfort, a humanitarian effort based in the country's Kurdish north.
President Bush named Gen. Garner in January to head the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, an interagency planning team with offices in the Pentagon. He would serve as civil administrator once Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's government is overthrown and would report to …