- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

BAGHDAD Retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, taking up his duties as Iraq's postwar civil administrator, toured a Baghdad hospital yesterday and said his priority was to restore such basic services as water and electricity supplies.
As Gen. Garner became acquainted with the Iraqi capital, thousands of Shi'ite Muslims marched in the heart of the city to protest the reported arrest of a leading cleric by the U.S. military.
The demonstrators massed outside the Palestine Hotel, which has housed some U.S. military offices, to demand the release of Sheik Mohammed al-Fartusi and other Shi'ite clerics. Sheik al-Fartusi was said to have been seized by U.S. troops in Baghdad.
The U.S. Central Command had no comment on the reported arrest.
Gen. Garner landed at Baghdad's international airport after a short flight from Kuwait, 12 days after U.S. tanks and troops captured the capital and brought down Saddam Hussein's government.
"What better day in your life can you have than to be able to help somebody else, to help other people, and that is what we intend to do," Gen. Garner said.
The 65-year-old former general, after weeks of preparatory work in Kuwait, came to his new post under tight security and gave little information about planned meetings or travel.
From the airport, he visited Baghdad's 1,000-bed Yarmouk hospital, which was overwhelmed with Iraqi casualties in the final days of heavy fighting. Its wards, including the coronary and respiratory care units, were stripped of almost everything by looters.
"We will help you, but it is going to take time," Gen. Garner told doctors.
Hours later, in Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced at a briefing that U.S. troops had discovered three warehouses in Baghdad containing enough medical supplies to stock all of the city's hospitals "for the next six to 12 months."
"Coalition forces will provide security for Iraqi Ministry of Health officials to distribute the supplies to city hospitals," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
He also brushed aside a New York Times story on the possibility of four bases now in Iraq being looked at for the long term.
"There are four bases that the U.S. is using in that country to help bring in humanitarian assistance, to help provide for stability operations. … But does that have anything to do with the long-term footprint? Not a whit."
Gen. Garner arrived in Baghdad with about 20 top aides, including his British deputy, Maj. Gen. Tim Cross. His staff is to grow to about 450 during the next week as others arrive by overland convoy from Kuwait to set up the full Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid.
The office is to coordinate the delivery of aid to the more than 20 million Iraqis, supervise rebuilding of the nation's infrastructure and oversee the establishment of an interim government.
For ordinary Iraqis, however, the primary needs are water and electricity knocked out during the war and security, with the capital wracked by almost two weeks of looting.
As U.S. Marines withdrew, Army troops moved in to take control of Baghdad and joined in patrols with a revived Iraqi police force to try to suppress the pillaging and vandalism.
Gen. Garner said his priority was to restore basic services as soon as possible. Asked how long his mission would take, he said, "We will be here as long as it takes. We will leave fairly rapidly."
At the city's major electrical plant, Maj. Andy Backus of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Gen. Garner that workers had restored power to 1 percent of the city but that "hopefully, this evening we will have the lights on in 10 percent of Baghdad."
The biggest challenge for the Americans undoubtedly will lie in trying to forge a peaceful, cooperative structure among Iraq's political, religious and ethnic factions.
A recently returned exile, Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, declared Sunday that he was Baghdad's new mayor and that he had formed a municipal government.
But Barbara Bodine, the U.S. coordinator for central Iraq who was traveling with Gen. Garner yesterday, said, "We don't really know much about him except that he's declared himself mayor. We don't recognize him."
Hundreds of thousands of Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims, meanwhile, are gathering in the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf for an annual feast curtailed under the rule of Saddam's Ba'ath Party.
Shi'ite leaders who, though pleased to see Saddam go, are strongly opposed to the U.S. military presence have called for political demonstrations during the holy days, which run from today to Thursday.
No Iraqi figures have spoken out in support of a strong U.S. role.
Even Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the U.S.-financed Iraqi National Congress exile group, has described Gen. Garner's job as one of getting Iraq's infrastructure and services in shape "in a few weeks," after which Iraqis would take over.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide