Protests Greet Garner's Arrival in Baghdad


By Roula Khalaf

Washington Post
April 21, 2003

Jay Garner, the retired US general responsible for civil administration in post-war Iraq, arrived on Monday in Baghdad, a city still disabled by looting and confusion over who is in charge. He started setting up his office in a former presidential palace but was greeted with the angriest protests yet against the US presence, and by a list of complaints and demands.

With an initial team of 19 administrators, expected to grow to more than 450 in the coming days, Mr Garner faces a daunting task in restoring security and stability and winning the confidence of ordinary citizens. In front of the Palestine Hotel, thousands of Shias angrily protested against the alleged arrest by US forces of a cleric, Mohamed Fartousi.

With Shia emotions running high as worshippers streamed to Karbala, south of Baghdad, in a pilgrimage that had been banned by the Saddam Hussein regime, protesters demanded the immediate release of the cleric. There was no information from the US military on whether he had been taken into custody.

Mr Garner's team insisted that it did not recognise the authority of a self-styled council instituted in the Iraqi capital by Mohamed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, a recently returned exile belonging to Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

But Mr Zubaidi's local council nevertheless took over a club near the Palestine Hotel and began registering the names of public employees, promising to pay them salaries by the end of the month. Barbara Bodine, the co-ordinator for central Iraq on Mr Garner's team, on Monday dismissed claims by Mr Zubaidi that he had in effect been chosen as governor of Baghdad.

"We don't really know much about him except that he's declared himself mayor," she said. "We don't recognise him. There hasn't been a process of selection. Once there's a process, then [we will recognise] whomever."

Mr Zubaidi's deputy, Jawdat al-Obeidi, said over the weekend he would lead an Iraqi delegation to the emergency meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna later this week. "He can't," Ms Bodine said on Monday. "I don't think Opec would take him. We wouldn't prevent him but I would find it odd that Opec would accept him as a representative."

Declaring that "everything is a challenge", Mr Garner began his first day with a visit to the Yarmouk hospital, now protected by US tanks after being ransacked by looters. Doctors, still deprived of water and electricity, said Mr Garner had pledged that the basic services would be restored within a week but that other needs would take time to fulfil and required co-operation between the hospital and his team.

"What we need to do is to give birth to a new system in Iraq," Mr Garner told reporters. "We will help you as long as you want us to." The doctors were sceptical. "I don't know whether what he said is real or not. We're all waiting," said Dr Nawzat Fouad, after the visit. "They are promises, we haven't seen anything until now."

Ahmad al-Alaoui, a policeman who recently returned to the job, said he has been researching Mr Garner's past and had heard that the retired general was a businessman and was sympathetic to Israel. "I'm worried," said Mr Alaoui. "We're an Islamic country, there are certain things you cannot impose on us."

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