U.S., former Baghdad officials meet about restoring services

Monday, April 28, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The U.S. military asserted its authority over Baghdad on Sunday, arresting an Iraqi exile for proclaiming himself the city's mayor without any mandate from its occupiers.

The arrest of Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi came as reconstruction officials met with top deputies from Baghdad's former city government to begin sorting out how to restart critical services like water, electricity and garbage pickups.

Efforts to shore up the peace advanced despite the backdrop of persistent war; Central Command announced preliminary tests indicated a 55-gallon drum found with others near the northern Iraqi town of Baiji contained a mixture of nerve and blister agents.

And Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin -- chief Iraqi liaison with U.N. weapons inspectors. No. 49 on the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted figures from Saddam Hussein's regime -- turned himself in to the Army's 101st Airborne Division in Mosul.

Sporadic violence continued. Four U.S. soldiers were injured, one seriously, when their two Humvees were ambushed Sunday by an assailant with a gun in downtown Baghdad.

On Saturday, one U.S. soldier was killed and a second injured Saturday when two Bradley fighting vehicles rolled over at a checkpoint that had come under enemy fire in the northern city of Tikrit.

Al-Zubaidi's arrest was part of the American efforts to bring order to a country that still lacked it. Al-Zubaidi had said he was volunteering to help Iraq get back on its feet, and despite fervent denials from American military authorities he did not discourage the belief that he was appointed by the coalition.

He was arrested with seven others, U.S. military spokesman Capt. David Connolly said, "for his inability to support the coalition military authority and for exercising authority which was not his."

The actual mayor, a political appointee, "obviously has fled," said Keith Schollum, an aide in the U.S.-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance run by retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.

Schollum said ORHA officials were meeting with 10 senior Iraqi officials, including the old city government's deputy mayor for technical services and deputy mayor for administration.

Paying in dollars

"We need to get control of waste disposal, get water and sewage going. We need to get things going again," he said.

Schollum said ORHA began paying some municipal workers in U.S. dollars Saturday. He said the ORHA team hopes that municipal workers might begin picking up the city's huge accumulations of garbage as early as today.

After the meeting, Garner deputy Barbara Bodine said an "emerging leadership" for Iraq should begin to appear at a major meeting of political factions today in Baghdad. She said the session should be much more representative than the first such meeting April 15 in the southern city of Ur.

The meeting on April 15 came just a week after U.S. forces took control of Baghdad and toppled Saddam's ruling Baath Party government. Fewer than 100 representatives of Iraqi opposition groups attended, and some groups boycotted in protest of U.S. influence over the process.

Between 300 and 400 representatives of political organizations and interest groups are expected to take part in the all-day meeting today, Bodine said.

She would not say exactly who was attending or whether groups that boycotted the previous meeting, particularly the Iran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, would show up.

She did say one of those invited was Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi opposition figure who is widely viewed as the Pentagon's choice to be Iraq's interim president. In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Chalabi said he had not decided whether to attend today's meeting. He sent representatives to the session in Ur.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, meanwhile, U.S. troops would stay in Iraq and Afghanistan until those countries are stable and democratic governments have taken control.

Rumsfeld flew to the Gulf region and, along with Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the Iraq war, held talks Sunday with top officials from the United Arab Emirates.

Rumsfeld was in the region to meet with U.S. troops involved in the war in Iraq and discuss America's role in postwar Iraq. He has said the United States is considering reducing its presence in the Persian Gulf now that the threat from Iraq is over.

Rumsfeld also plans to visit American troops and government officials in Afghanistan later this week.

Anger and anti-American sentiment flared white hot Saturday after a U.S.-held weapons cache laden with 80 Iraqi missiles exploded on the edge of Baghdad, killing at least six people and showering homes for miles around with warheads, rockets and mortars.

The U.S. military blamed unknown attackers who they said fired four flares into the sprawling open missile dump. But hundreds of enraged, screaming Iraqis blamed Iraq's new American overseers. Wailing women collapsed over the coffins of two adults and four teenagers.

"No Saddam! No Bush! Yes to Islam!" fist-waving men shouted. The disaster touched off protests in the stricken Zafaraniyah neighborhood and in the city center. Residents near the blast fired on U.S. troops trying to help the wounded, briefly driving the soldiers from the scene.

An American soldier suffered a broken arm in the attack. The New York Times, quoting an anonymous U.S. military official, said the Iraqi toll could go much higher.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt. Mark Kitchens blamed "despicable people" for allegedly firing the flares.

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