- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

BAGHDAD U.S. civilian administrators plan to open dictator Saddam Hussein's palaces to the Iraqi public to lend an idea of the free society they hope to build.
The plan comes from the staff of Jay Garner, the 65-year-old retired U.S. general who will supervise the running and reconstruction of Iraq until its citizens can take over.
Gen. Garner was expected to make his first visit to the capital today. He and his staff from the Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA) had been restrained by military commanders from coming earlier owing to safety concerns.
Gen. Garner has said he hopes for a quick turnover of authority to an interim administration headed by Iraqis. But Ahmed Chalabi, whose Iraqi National Congress (INC) is positioned for a leading role in any postwar administration, said yesterday that U.S. forces are likely to be needed in the country for at least two years.
Also yesterday, the first food convoy since the war began arrived in Baghdad after a perilous four-day road trip from Jordan, carrying 1,500 tons of wheat flour and other supplies.
Workers promptly began unloading the flour at a Trade Ministry warehouse that had just reopened. U.S. and other officials have estimated that Iraqi food stocks will last until the end of the month.
Attempts to restore power in the capital were less successful, with large areas of Baghdad remaining blacked out since shortly before Saddam's regime fell to U.S. forces.
But ORHA officials also are looking beyond the practical needs of food, water and electricity to symbolic actions intended to win over the hearts and minds of the population.
"Just as dismantling the Berlin Wall marked a watershed moment in that city's history, so, too, can the return of these sites to Iraqi society mark a symbolic new beginning in Baghdad," says an ORHA planning document made available to The Washington Times.
The sites comprise hundreds of buildings and thousands of landscaped areas in the five major presidential compounds, it states.
The April 4 document also contained a warning: "During the immediate weeks following the liberation of Baghdad, these sites must be secured and safeguarded to prevent vandalism and looting and to prevent access to unsafe structures."
The sites, nonetheless, were ransacked in the days after the regime collapsed on April 9. Looters also stole thousands of priceless treasures from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. Gen. Garner had issued a separate memo urging coalition forces to protect the museum, The Times reported yesterday.
On the political front, one of ORHA's first tasks may be to decide whether to endorse a follower of Mr. Chalabi's INC who has declared himself head of an "executive committee" to run Baghdad and who announced yesterday that he had formed a municipal government.
"I was chosen by tribal leaders and educated people, the doctors of the city and other prominent figures," recently returned exile Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi was quoted by the Associated Press as saying at a news conference.
"We have met with lawmen to create laws, and to open the courts so that life can begin to take on legitimacy."
The AP quoted Mr. al-Zubaidi, the source of whose authority is not clear, as having drawn applause from a group of Arab journalists gathered in a coffee shop by saying that Iraq's new constitution would be based on Islamic law.
"Every person whose hands are stained with the blood of the Iraqi people will be put on trial," Mr. al-Zubaidi reportedly said.
Mr. Chalabi, speaking from Baghdad yesterday on ABC's "This Week," said he agreed there should be "a role for Islamic religious parties" in the postwar government, but that they "are not going to be forcing any agenda or forcing a theocracy on the Iraqi people."
Asked about reports that the United States would seek to keep military bases in Iraq even after a permanent government is formed there, Mr. Chalabi said he thought a U.S. military presence "is a necessity until at least the first democratic election is held. And I think this process should take two years."
"It is up to the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi people to decide whether they will want a military association of the United States," he added. "But it is my view that a strategic alliance between Iraq and the United States is a very good thing for both countries."
The World Food Program, meanwhile, announced the arrival of the 50-truck food convoy in Baghdad after a four-day trip during which it reportedly came under attack in the town of Ramadi, north of the Iraqi capital.
A spokesman said no one was injured and that none of the cargo was lost. Food deliveries are expected to become safer and easier once Baghdad's airport is reopened for humanitarian flights, which is expected to happen within the next week.
The Agence France-Presse news agency quoted Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, as saying that relief efforts were complicated by "the total collapse of the infrastructure."
"We are at a very crucial crossroads. Our assessment is that if we don't solve things fast it can get real bad," he said. "There could easily be violence" against U.S.-led forces.


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