First Published: 2003-04-24

 
Garner plunges into Iraqi politics
 

US civil administrator for Iraq holds town meeting with 60 selected Iraqis in bid to form democratic government.

 

Middle East Online

By Peter Mackler - BAGHDAD

Garner jumpstarts Iraqi government

Jay Garner, the US civil administrator for Iraq, plunged into the search for local leadership in Baghdad Thursday to work with the US occupation forces in rebuilding the country, saying he hoped to get government ministries up and running from around the end of next week.

Garner held a town meeting for prospective Iraqi leaders but distanced himself from a self-proclaimed governor of Baghdad and stayed cool to Ahmad Chalabi, the best-known opposition leader.

US officials are treating Iraqi politicians here cautiously after ousting Saddam Hussein two weeks ago. The military has threatened would-be leaders with arrest if they challenged US authority, the New York Times reported.

But on the fourth day of his inspection of Iraq's reconstruction needs, Garner held an hour-long meeting with about 60 selected Iraqis here that a US official called "spirited and sometimes emotional."

"Our purpose here in your country is to create an environment for you so that we can begin a process of government that leads to a democratic form in Iraq," the retired US general told the all-male group.

The gathering brought together university professors, government technocrats and other Iraqis, but US officials said they were not necessarily being groomed for posts in an eventual administration.

"When we meet in the town hall we will find out what process the people of Baghdad want to end up with a mayor," British General Tim Cross, Garner's deputy, said before the session at the Baghdad conference center.

Cross, and later Garner, reiterated that Mohammad Mohsen Zubeidi, who claims to have been elected administrator of Baghdad by religious and community officials here, had received no backing from the United States.

"What we are trying to find out is, is that the will of the people of Baghdad?" Cross said of Zubeidi, who has formed 22 committees to run the capital, including two for defense and foreign affairs.

Garner added later: "We told them that the coalition doesn't have a candidate, and if the people of Baghdad are unhappy with him all they have to do is come tell us and we'll ask him to leave, and we'll show him how to leave, so he's not supported by the coalition."

Cross and Garner were also non-committal about the Iraqi National Congress headed by Chalabi, who enjoys Pentagon support back in the United States.

"We're going to start a governmental process here next week that will allow them a forum", Garner said, referring to a meeting of Iraqi opposition figures that had been set for Saturday but was postponed to Monday.

"Mr Chalabi's a fine man, he's not my candidate, he's not the candidate of the coalition. You'll see the leaders emerging in the next week or so and they'll work with us in providing the proper framework so we can get into the democratic process."

Garner also said the self-rule established by the Kurds in the north of Iraq, which he had earlier visited, over the past 12 years beyond the control of Saddam Hussein's regime, could be a model for a future Iraqi government.

But Cross quickly stressed that it was "a" model, and not "the" model.

Youarash Haidou, a retired English teacher and writer who attended the town meeting, told reporters afterward that security was raised as the key issue amid a wave of lootings and vandalism since Saddam was deposed.

"We need security, we need peace, we need law," Haidou said. "He (Garner) said, 'We are trying to do our best.'"

Garner said he had told the town meeting, "We want to reopen the ministries next week."

While the coalition would have a coordinator for each ministry, the administration "would have an Iraqi face on it," he said.

But as they feel their way through the complex world of Iraqi politics, with more than 60 parties operating here, the Americans have made clear to the local population who is in charge.

The New York Times said Lieutenant General David McKiernan, commander of ground forces in Iraq, had issued a proclamation insisting that the US-led coalition "alone retains absolute authority within Iraq."

He warned that anyone posing a threat could be arrested. US forces here had already issued a message to Baghdadis to stay off the streets at night, avoid checkpoints and give the right of way to US vehicles on all roads.

To drive home US control of the capital, Garner attended a barbecue lunch for about 100 people at Saddam's main palace, where they feasted on hamburgers, hot dogs and Cokes.

Garner, 65, later resumed his inspection of the capital, including a stop at the national museum that was looted on April 11 while US troops stood by, an incident that sparked outrage around the world.

An aide, Major General Carl Strock, also told the press conference that coalition forces had restarted some oil and gas production in the north and south of the country to meet Iraqis' needs, and not for export.

"Oil is flowing in the south," Strock said. "We're pumping about 175,000 barrels a day, and we're pumping that to the refinery at Basra and also into the power plants in that vicinity.

"This is strictly for domestic use, for Iraqi internal needs, it's not for export."

Strock, of the US army corps of engineers, said it was also hoped to be pumping some 60,000 barrels a day from Iraq's northern oilfields in a day or two, for the same purposes.

"Gas as well is coming out of the north, we have a gas well operating, and this is critical for the operation of gas turbines which drive most of the electrical grid here in the Baghdad area," he added.

Garner arrived in Iraq on Monday, a month after US-led forces launched their invasion of Iraq that culminated in the fall of Saddam's regime on April 9.

He spent two days in the north, where he received a warm welcome and held talks with Kurdish leaders.

 

Jordan ready to do ‘everything’ to save life of IS-held pilot

Egypt orders deportation of Australian reporter Peter Greste

Huthis set three-day deadline to resolve Yemen crisis

Mosques in Britain open doors to public in reassurance gesture

Saudi Prince Alwaleed launches pan-Arab news channel

‘Islamic State’ beheads of Iraq security personnel in latest atrocity

Saudi Arabia frees woman activist close to blogger Raef Badawi

Deadly blast targets Shiite pilgrims in central Damascus

UN says violence in Iraq killed at least 1,375 people in January

Stateless activist gets five years in jail for insulting Kuwait emir

Gunfire wounds two Americans in eastern Saudi Arabia

Japan condemns 'despicable' beheading of second hostage

Who plotted assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh?

Bahrain revokes citizenship of 72 unrest convicts

Wary of Internet, jihadists change communication strategy

Egypt blacklists Hamas armed wing as ‘terrorist organization’

Concern rises in Japan as hostage negotiations hit 'deadlock'

Party of Yemen ex-president breaks boycott to join Huthi meeting

UN chief backs African force to fight Boko Haram

AU: Ignoring South Sudan findings will help the guilty

Hezbollah warns it does not fear new war with Israel

Saudi blogger’s flogging postponed for third week

Iran seeks good relations with Saudi Arabia

Jordan still kept in the dark over pilot fate

Syria’s Qaeda fights Western-backed rebels

Abbas to visit Stockholm after Palestine recognised

UN chief to African leaders: do not 'cling to power'

Israel to go ahead with 430 new West Bank settler homes

Libya rivals to join peace talks if held on home soil

New Saudi king announces sweeping cabinet shake-up

Deadly Sinai attacks force Sisi to cut short overseas trip

Israel reduces energy supplies to Palestinians

Syria opposition embassy in Qatar renews passports

Hezbollah sends message to Israel ‘conflict is over’

Women protest against Egypt police after fatal shooting

Libyan airline suspends flights

Iraq government vows to investigate Diyala massacre

MSF withdraws help from two Sudan states

Jordan wants to see proof pilot alive before exchange

US says thousands of Somali children facing starvation

Kuwait online activists arrested 'over Saudi criticism'

British mosques open doors to reach out to citizens

Iran, Europe officials to meet Thursday in Istanbul

IS issues new deadline to kill Jordanian pilot if demand not met

Netanyahu warns Hezbollah will pay 'full price'