Top US official heads to a capital struggling to redefine its future
By Elizabeth Neuffer, Globe Staff, 4/21/03
Garner's trip, which will include visits to a police academy, hospital, electrical power station, and water treatment plant, will launch the long-awaited move of the Pentagon's Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance from Kuwait to Baghdad, US officials said yesterday.
His arrival occurs as three more key members of Saddam Hussein's regime -- Hussein's bodyguard, son-in-law, and minister of higher education and scientific research -- were in custody yesterday, a sign that the old government is bowing to the certainty of a new Iraq.
But Garner, this country's de facto ruler since Hussein was toppled, is likely to find his new powers here swiftly challenged. His critics are not Hussein loyalists but Iraqis frustrated by how long it is taking US forces to restore basic services and calling for emerging Iraqi leaders to take charge instead.
One rival to Garner's powers could be Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi, a longtime Iraqi exile who has already proclaimed himself in charge of Baghdad and yesterday announced plans to revive the city's civil administration. A deputy in the Iraqi National Congress, Zubaidi is backed by many of Iraq's influential tribal leaders.
Yet many in this city's fractious Shi'ite community have already turned to their religious leaders and their newly organized militias to restore order to their neighborhoods. At the Abu Hanifah mosque, for example, a group of sheiks and Islamic notables are organizing burials, security patrols, and even street cleaners.
"We are trying to bring some order to the situation," said Sheik Muayid Adhami.
At Kindi Hospital, workers praised one local religious Shi'ite scholar for organizing an armed militia to protect the hospitals and raising money for supplies. "He protected us from looters, he provides us with food and safety," marveled Mohammed Jabbar Dulaimi, 25, a first-year resident.
Increasingly, many Shi'ites are calling for US troops to withdraw and for the establishment of an Islamic state. In Baghdad, graffiti scrawled across the walls of newly renamed Sadr City, an impoverished Shi'ite neighborhood, declared yesterday: "We support Islam. No America, No Saddam."
As up to 2 million Shi'ites from Iraq and Iran converge on the holy sites of Najaf and Karbala in an annual pilgrimage this week, one leading cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, head of an Iranian-based Iraqi opposition group, called on marchers to show they reject the US military presence.
At least one marcher yesterday echoed his call.
"We want the US forces to leave, now," said Sheik Ahmed Zerjawi, 32, striding along with dozens of Shi'ite men beginning their pilgrimage. "They have guns, but only to protect themselves, not any of us."
Shi'ite pilgrims jammed Baghdad's streets yesterday, along with job-seekers, protesters, and those simply searching for the semblance of a normal life. Unnoticed by most was that in some pockets of the city, some relief finally arrived.
Power supplies were restored in areas east of the Tigris River for the first time since April 6. The first postwar convoy of UN food aid also arrived, opening an aid corridor from Jordan, which UN officials say should keep the capital supplied with food when stocks run low in coming weeks.
Late yesterday, the once exiled Iraqi National Congress announced that Hussein's son-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan Tikriti, had surrendered to the group after leaving the Syrian capital, Damascus. One of the 55 most-wanted by the US military, Tikriti was married to Hussein's youngest daughter, Hala.
Arrested with him was Khalid Hmood, one of Hussein's top bodyguards who served as the head of Iraqi intelligence during the war. Both men could possibly provide details about whether Hussein is alive or dead.
US Central Command also announced yesterday that Abd al-Khaliq Abd Gafar, Iraq's minister of higher education and scientific research was apprehended by coalition troops on Saturday. He was also on Washington's most-wanted list.
News of the arrests came late in the evening here, after a day in which chaos still gripped the city's streets. Looting was easing, but sidewalk vendors were doing a brisk business in a popular stolen good: AK-47s.
Residents here continued to blame US forces for the continued lack of water, electricity, and normal life. Details of Garner's schedule has not been released for security reasons. He would otherwise get a full taste of the anger swirling along Baghdad's streets when he visits today.
The retired general is not new to Iraq or its people: in 1991, he spent three months feeding and protecting Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq, an operation that drew him high marks both from the Kurds and international aid workers.
But Garner has already come under fire both from Iraqi opposition groups and US aid groups for wrapping a Pentagon-like secrecy around their plans that appear to put Americans, not Iraqis, in charge.
World leaders have also chimed in, saying it is more appropriate that the UN take charge of rebuilding Iraq than the Pentagon.
For Garner, overseeing the complex ethnic and religious blend that makes up Iraq, is a very different challenge than what he faced with the Kurds. What is clear is that Iraqis will expect Garner to produce results -- and quickly.
Tribal sheiks swirling through the lobby of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad said they chose to back Zubaidi as a mayor of Baghdad because he had an agenda that focused on restoring law and order, from reopening the courts to rewriting old Hussein-era edicts.
Equally impressive, tribal leaders say, is that Zubaidi delivers on his promises. Garner, they add, will have to do the same, if not more.
"Zubaidi said he did not come to rule but to serve us," said Mohammed Nefawa of the al Halafa al Surai tribe, with some 35,000 members across Iraq. "About a week ago he promised us water, power, and security, and then some electricity went on. That has given us confidence in him."
Anne Barnard contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used