- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s new U.S. overseer took a major step yesterday toward disarming Iraq, formally dissolving Saddam Hussein’s Defense Ministry and disbanding the Republican Guard and the once-mighty Iraqi army.

Coalition authorities are also readying a directive that will attempt to control the flood of weapons that swamped Baghdad and other urban areas in the months before the war. That order will ban the possession of heavy firearms and munitions, except by coalition forces and the Kurdish “peshmerga” militia fighters, U.S. allies in the drive to oust Saddam.

“These actions are part of a robust campaign to show the Iraqi people that the Saddam regime is gone and will never return,” the administration of U.S. civilian authority L. Paul Bremer said in a statement in Baghdad.

Also disbanded yesterday in the continuing effort to purge the Ba’athist regime were the Ministry of Information and the Revolutionary Command Council, Saddam’s hand-picked Cabinet of advisers.

All told, some 400,000 employees of the old regime are likely to lose their posts, according to unofficial estimates.

“Most of these will not be replaced, because they have no place in a free society,” said an announcement issued by Mr. Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority. “This order also disbands the regular armed forces of the old regime, because they were deeply penetrated and heavily dominated by the Ba’ath Party and its loyalists.”

U.S. troops Thursday also seized what appeared to be $500 million worth of gold bars from a truck near Qaim on the Syrian border, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement yesterday.

The 2,000 40-pound bars could be gold, it said. Two people in the Mercedes truck said they had been paid $350 to drive the shipment.

When the gun-control measure is approved by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Iraqis will likely have a two-week amnesty period to turn in AK-47s, rocket grenades and other prohibited weapons. However, civilians will be allowed to keep light weapons at home for self-defense, according to a draft of the memo obtained by The Washington Times.

The old Iraqi army contained many components, including youth brigades, a women’s corps and other divisions. The order notes that most former soldiers will be entitled to a termination payment.

However, that still leaves thousands of soldiers without jobs or paychecks, and they are a visible force on Baghdad’s streets.

Until a successor army, called the New Iraqi Corps, is created, coalition officials will have to conduct routine military functions, such as border patrols and security. The new army will re-employ most of the former soldiers, except high-ranking officers and soldiers with significant ties to Saddam’s former ruling Ba’ath Party.

In an effort to control chaos in the capital city, U.S. military forces are drafting a gun-control policy that would make it illegal for most civilians to own automatic weapons or carry small arms outside their homes.

The policy, which could be announced early next week, is designed to concentrate weapons in the hands of coalition forces and those who support them.

“To ensure a secure environment for all people of Iraq and to promote public order and safety, the carrying and use of weapons must be limited,” according to the two-page memo.

The directive bans automatic and heavy weapons, such as AK-47s; rocket-propelled grenades; mortars and artillery pieces; explosives, such as land mines and hand grenades; and armored vehicles.

Rowan Scarborough in Washington contributed to this report.

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