Garner: Group of 9 Will Likely Lead Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ The core of the new Iraqi government will start to be selected by mid-May and a council of up to nine Iraqis will probably lead an interim government, the American civil administrator said Monday. The U.S. military announced the arrest of a former Iraqi intelligence chief.
Over the weekend, Iraqis dug up 72 bodies from a shallow mass grave near the southern city of Najaf. Bullet casings also were found near the graves, which witnesses said were filled with men and women executed after a failed 1991 Shiite Muslim uprising against Saddam Hussein.
The U.S. Army’s V Corps had no details on the arrest of Iraq’s top spy other than his name, Adil Salfeg Al-Azarui. He is not on the coalition’s ``deck of cards.″ Al-Azarui, a Baath Party official, also was once the mayor of Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown.
Iraq’s U.S. administrator, retired general Jay Garner, said he expected a small group of leaders to take the reins of post-Saddam Iraq. The idea was discussed last week at a political meeting in Baghdad.
``What you may see is as many as seven, eight, nine leaders working together to provide leadership,″ said Garner, who made a one-day trip Monday to Basra, Iraq’s second-biggest city.
He added: ``By the middle of the month, you’ll really see a beginning of a nucleus of an Iraqi government with an Iraqi face on it that is dealing with the coalition.″
Iraqi faction leaders and U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said they would meet again in coming weeks and hoped to form an interim government sometime early next month.
The Iraqi leaders Garner referred to were Massoud Barzani; leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party; Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress; Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord; and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose elder brother heads the Shiite group Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
The group has met several times, and Garner said it would probably be expanded to include a Christian and perhaps another Sunni Muslim leader.
Garner also said he expects the newly appointed L. Paul Bremer, former head of the U.S. State Department’s counterterrorism office, to take charge of the political process within the American postwar administration. Bremer is expected to arrive in Iraq by next week, Garner said.
``He will get more involved in the political process. I’m doing all of it and don’t want to do all of it,″ Garner said.
He said the appointment of someone like Bremer had been planned all along. ``I’ll stay a while. There’s got to be a good handoff,″ he said.
Garner’s trip to Basra was to include visits to a school, a hospital and an oil refinery and a conference with a local sheik. His Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance has been working with the U.S. military to restore order in Iraq.
The retired general blamed U.N. sanctions for gasoline shortages that have made some Iraqis angry at American forces, The New York Times reported Monday.
``The U.N. really needs to lift the sanctions so we don’t have all of this,″ Garner said.
Gasoline shortages have limited public transportation and discouraged Iraqis from driving to work. President Bush has urged the U.N. Security Council to lift the sanctions, which were imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The coming weeks will be crucial to restoring order in Baghdad, Garner said.
``The month of May is a key month for getting all the public services stood up or at least with a good prospect of being stood up and getting the law enforcement system back,″ Garner said.
He also announced the release of Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, an exile who was detained April 27 by U.S. forces after he put himself in charge of Baghdad. Al-Zubaidi was released after 48 hours on condition that he not resume his activities.
Al-Zubaidi, unknown in Baghdad before Saddam’s regime fell last month, suddenly proclaimed himself mayor several days after the regime collapsed.
The United States had accused al-Zubaidi of writing letters to utility plants ordering them to await his instructions before restarting operations and firing some employees of the government electricity company.
Al-Zubaidi has made no public appearances since his release.
Before Saddam’s government fell, Iraqis who knew or suspected that certain sites contained mass graves were forbidden to go to look for their relatives.
``Everybody knew and could see, but they kept quiet,″ said Kamel al-Tamimi, a farmer. ``We were told to stay away from this area, not to go near it.″
Iraqis exhumed the bodies with shovels and their bare hands this weekend 13 miles northwest of Najaf and expected to find more remains this week. At least one smaller mass grave site was found a few miles away.
``This is the tip of the iceberg in this country,″ said Marine Capt. Mike Urena. ``I am sure you will find more.″
The British, meanwhile, on Monday reopened what used to be their embassy _ but stopping short of calling it that.
The sandstone-and-timber Ottoman building in Baghdad, heavily guarded Monday, had served as the British Embassy since the 1920s.
British officials said its restaffing made Britain the first country that evacuated diplomats before the 1991 Gulf War to re-establish a permanent presence in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.