Garner vows to help Iraq to 'new system'
By Anne Barnard, Globe Staff, 4/22/03
"What we need to do from this day forward is to give birth to a new system in Iraq," Garner told doctors at Yarmouk Hospital, where sun slants through a hole in the roof of a maternity ward onto a pile of concrete rubble littering one of the beds. "It begins with us working together, but it is hard work and it takes a long time. We will help you as long as you want us to."
Also yesterday, US Central Command said Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi, known as Saddam Hussein's "Shi'ite Thug" for his role in Iraq's suppression of the Shi'ite Muslim uprising of 1991, has been arrested.
A nurse by training and former member of Iraq's ruling Revolutionary Command Council and regional commander of the central Euphrates district, Zubaydi was number 18 on the US military's list of the 55 most-wanted figures from Hussein's regime.
Central Command gave no further details on his arrest.
The Iraqi National Congress, the leading anti- Hussein organization, said its forces arrested Zubaydi in Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, and turned him over to US forces.
In Baghdad, Garner stopped by a hospital pockmarked by artillery and stripped by thieves, a damaged electrical power station, and a sewage plant that is discharging untreated waste into the Tigris River. Doctors and engineers greeted the retired US general with a mix of praise for his sympathetic manner and skepticism toward US promises to rebuild the country quickly and then to leave power in Iraqi hands.
Sheik Fatih Kashif at Gitaa, who called himself a messenger from the Hawza school in Najaf, said he told Garner at the hospital that the group would cooperate with his team only through intermediaries, such as Iraqi doctors and engineers.
"If Mr. Garner were not an occupier, I would have hugged him," he said. "But he is an occupier, and thus I have to be against him -- peacefully."
Dr. Zaid Abdelkarim, the director of Yarmouk hospital, said he would work with US officials, who yesterday promised him two new generators, and with anyone else who could help him, including the Shi'ite Hawza group that refused contact with Garner.
"They have their beliefs and they have to be responsible for what they believe. I myself am only responsible for this hospital," he said. Of Garner, he added: "I am begging for his help. He wants to create an atmosphere, he says, for us to be able to work. ... We are not helping America. We are helping ourselves."
Others called Garner's talk "just words" and said he could do nothing to shake their belief that the United States invaded to take Iraqi oil and benefit Israel.
"He was joking on us," said Dr. Hanan Jabbour, 35, a gynecologist, adding that Iraqis are not obliged to help Garner. "We didn't destroy our country. They destroyed it. ...There is nothing to say thank you to him [for]."
Garner, 65, who heads the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, sought to project a different image.
"The new ruler of Iraq is going to be an Iraqi. I don't rule anything," he said at the power station before heading to the Faw Palace, a moated former residence of Hussein where he planned to spend the night before heading to northern Iraq today. "I'm the coalition facilitator to establish a different environment where these people can pull things together themselves."
The location of Iraq's former dictator is still unknown.
Ahmed Chalabi, a prominent Iraqi exile who wants his Iraqi National Congress to play a leading role in the new government, said yesterday that Hussein is alive in Iraq and moving from place to place. He said his group is receiving information on Hussein's whereabouts 12 to 24 hours after the fact.
Garner's team was dismissive yesterday of Chalabi ally Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, who claimed last week he was made chief of an interim council to run the capital.
"We don't really know much about him except that he's declared himself mayor," said Barbara Bodine, the US coordinator for central Iraq, traveling with Garner.
"We don't recognize him."
A line of Shi'ite pilgrims traveling on foot yesterday stretched from Baghdad all the way along the road to Karbala, where they were greeted by armed men directing traffic and locals stirring enormous cauldrons of beans and rice. Religious leaders in Karbala expect as many as 2 million pilgrims to pack the city by the end of today -- the first time in nearly three decades that Iraq's largest religious group could worship openly without fear of imprisonment.
Tens of thousands of men and women were sleeping on the ground outside the Shi'ite shrines of Imam Hussein and Abu al-Fadl Abbas, the holiest spots in the center of Karbala. Around them crowds of hundreds of men at a time were beating their chests in mourning.
"This is the first time we have total freedom to express ourselves," said Majeb Karim, 43, a construction worker who walked barefoot from Baghdad to Karbala yesterday. "I hope it stays that way."
In Baghdad, a crowd of protesters gathered near the Palestine Hotel after a rumor circulated that US forces had detained a Shi'ite religious leader, Sheik Mohammad Fartusi of Najaf. It was unclear whether the detention had occurred; US Central Command, headquarters for the war in Iraq, said it had no information.
There were small signs of returning normalcy in the capital. State-run gas stations had fuel for the second day. More currency exchanges and restaurants were open. Some former state television workers were called back to work, and at the Faw Palace, a headquarters for the US Army's Civil Military Coordination Center, several hundred Iraqi workers responded to a call for lawyers, engineers, and others to relaunch government ministries with the help of Garner's 400-person team.
In Washington, Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said installing a strong democratic system will require at least five years because the United States did not plan adequately for the postwar period.
"A gap has occurred, and that has brought some considerable suffering," Lugar said.
Thanassis Cambanis and Elizabeth Neuffer of the Globe Staff contributed to this report, and material from wire services also was used. Anne Barnard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.