- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

BAGHDAD U.S. military police arrested the self-proclaimed mayor of Baghdad yesterday afternoon, sending a clear message against power grabs to the hundreds of prominent Iraqis gathering here for a meeting today to help decide the country's new leadership.
Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi and seven members of his militia were arrested peacefully outside a U.S. military compound, where they apparently had come to meet with American officials.
Since he returned to the capital city a month ago, Mr. al-Zubaidi, a former Iraqi exile, has vexed U.S. civil administrators by representing himself as the mayor of this city of 5 million and "appointing" key leaders such as the police chief and utility directors.
U.S. forces also took into custody yesterday another of Saddam Hussein's key lieutenants. Lt. Gen. Hassam Mohammed Amin, Iraq's chief liaison to U.N. weapons inspectors, was No. 49 on the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted figures from the ousted regime.
Capt. Kellie Rourke, division battle captain with the 101st Airborne Division, said Gen. Amin surrendered to soldiers of the division's 2nd Brigade in Baghdad and was taken to the international airport for questioning.
Also known as Hossem Mohammed Amin al-Yasin, he would be expected to have detailed knowledge of any illegal armaments and where they might be found. Weapons of mass destruction were a key rationale for the U.S.-led war.
U.S. Central Command confirmed Mr. al-Zubaidi's arrest in a statement issued last night in Qatar and said that Mr. al-Zubaidi, 51, and two of his guards were taken to a detention facility outside Baghdad.
Central Command said the would-be mayor "was detained and then removed from Baghdad to prevent his continued misrepresentation of his authority."
"Until such time as that government is formed, the coalition is the only legitimate government authority in Iraq," the U.S. military command said in a statement. "The coalition will continue to move decisively against any individual or group exercising or claiming political authority outside the coalition."
Mr. al-Zubaidi's "Local Council of Baghdad" issued a statement demanding his release, and at least one high-ranking leader of the exile Iraqi National Congress also condemned the detention.
"The message is that the U.S. military does not want independent Iraqis to participate in restoring services to Iraq," said Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, who heads the London-based Constitutional Monarchy Movement, condemning the arrest as "arbitrary."
Jay Garner, the Pentagon's top civilian administrator in Iraq, is to meet with 300 prominent Iraqis today to begin charting a political future for this oil-rich country of more than 20 million people.
Mr. Garner last week repeatedly distanced himself from Mr. al-Zubaidi and his political benefactor, Ahmed Chalabi, at a Baghdad news conference, saying that the coalition and the lead U.S. reconstruction group did not endorse any candidate to lead Iraq.
Nonetheless, Mr. Chalabi, leader of the INC, has been invited to participate in today's meeting, the second major gathering of potential Iraqi leaders after an April 15 meeting in the southern city of Ur. Fewer than 100 Iraqis participated in the first meeting, as some Shi'ites and others stayed away in protest of potential U.S. influence over selection of a new Iraqi president.
Barbara Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen and one of Mr. Garner's top assistants, told reporters yesterday that, "I think we are going to see more of an indigenous representation, simply because we've had more time to organize" today's meeting.
The Iran-based Iraqi exiles of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, a Shi'ite group that shunned the first conference, indicated they might attend today's meeting.
"No definite decision has been taken so far. We have been invited and will most probably attend," SCIRI leading member Mohsen Hakim told the Associated Press yesterday in Tehran, Iran's capital.
In a radio address to the Iraqi people, Mr. Garner tried to reassure listeners that the Americans intend to set up a transitional administration and hand power back to the Iraqi people.
"I will be here for just a short time. Just to help get things going. This is your country, and it's your future," he said. "Your new government will be an open government and an honest government. That is your dream, and it is my dream, and it's the dream of the world."
Last week, U.S. military officials began expelling or arresting Mr. al-Zubaidi's representatives, after weeks of ignoring them.
The man who insisted he was the chief of police was arrested by the U.S. Army last week after the coalition-installed acting chief complained of harassment. His representative was soundly thrown out of a daily meeting of the city's power and utility directors by the brigadier general leading the group.
An exile, who returned to Baghdad last month after two decades abroad, Mr. al-Zubaidi created a high profile for himself in an early attempt to build popular support and short-circuit challengers.
He kept a room at the Palestine Hotel, home base to most of the foreign press corps in Baghdad. His supporters organized regular demonstrations in the square outside the hotel and kept banners flying on mosques in traffic circles in key city neighborhoods.
Today's meeting is a political forum that could get ugly, said one Iraqi-American.
"There are a lot of interests involved that are not national interests they are parochial interests," said Sermid al-Sarraf, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who has been working with the U.S. administration to develop a judicial system for Iraq.
Mr. Al-Sarraf is calling for separate, independent proceedings for the judiciary, so that it will not be tainted by the power struggles marking the political process.
Meanwhile, today is Saddam's birthday, and military officials in Tikrit, the central Iraqi city where he was born, are operating on a heightened state of alert.
"We are intensifying our efforts to counter any potential paramilitary reconnaissance or direct attack on our positions," said Maj. Robert M. Cassidy, the operations officer for the Aviation Brigade of the Army's 4th Infantry Division.
"This is his hometown, and you can infer that there are folks that aren't too happy that we decided to occupy his home territory," he said.
Staff writers Sharon Behn contributed to this story from Washington and Guy Taylor contributed from Iraq.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide