Iraqi workers return to trashed offices

Capital's most normal day since ouster of Hussein

ex-finance chief arrested

April 20, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Thousands of public employees reported for duty at the start of the workweek yesterday, yearning for normalcy but finding in the debris of their charred and looted offices few clues of how to begin.

"I don't know what to think," said Nawal Abdel Karim, who shook her head at the scattered papers, stripped computer disks and mangled furniture in the Supreme Audit Bureau, where she has worked for 19 years. "I can't believe Iraqis could do this. This cannot be the educated, intellectual Iraq I know."

Still, it was Baghdad's most normal day since the displacement of Saddam Hussein, and the authorities deepened their control.

The U.S. military said it had arrested Hikmat Mizban Ibrahim al-Azzawi, the former finance minister, who is on its list of 55 most-wanted Iraqi officials.

The arrest marked a victory for the newly reconstituted Iraqi police, who apprehended Azzawi on Friday night and turned him over to U.S. officials. He might be useful in shedding light on Hussein's personal wealth, which the Americans suspect is in the billions of dollars.

Since taking control of Baghdad on April 9, the U.S. military has arrested several top leaders, including two of Hussein's half-brothers, his top science adviser, who surrendered, and a senior leader of the Baath Party, the apparatus Hussein used to control Iraq for three decades.

On Friday, another scientist, Emad Husayn Abdullah al-Ani, turned himself in.

U.S. officials say he was a force behind Iraq's program to develop the nerve agent VX in the 1980s and could help to uncover any chemical or biological weapons.

But there is no sign of Hussein. On Friday, Arab news channels showed a videotape of him addressing a crowd near a mosque in Baghdad, supposedly on the day that the American soldiers arrived here.

Yesterday, in the Adhimiya neighborhood, a Baath stronghold where the videotape was recorded, people who said they saw Hussein address the crowd that day atop an armored Mercedes said they believe he is alive. In the absence of phones and television, conspiracy theories abound, and people said there must be a reason why the U.S. military has not caught him - unless, they said, it has.

"Only the United States knows where he is," Abdel Rahman Kitab, 30, a policeman, said darkly.

In Saudi Arabia, foreign ministers from eight Middle Eastern nations demanded that U.S. and British forces leave Iraq as soon as possible.

"The Iraqi people should administer and govern their country by themselves, and any exploitation of their natural resources should be in conformity with the will of the legitimate Iraqi government and its people," Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said yesterday in Riyadh.

In Baghdad, with the looting and burning abating, the streets were jammed with people returning to work, snarling intersections where traffic lights are out because electricity has yet to be fully restored.

"It's much worse now because there is no control," said Ala Hussein, 53, stuck in traffic behind a fetid garbage truck in the midday sun as he was returning from his first day back at work at the Ministry of Health. "It's just chaos."

Iraqis said a U.S. military radio station had urged public employees to return to work, though that could not be verified. Maj. Bill Mason, an Army civil affairs officer, said military radio urged parents in southern Baghdad, where the Army is stationed, to send their children back to school.

The announcement, he said, was "so people can feel that their lives are getting back on track."

Traffic was also blocked by convoys of Marines, who had fought their way north to Baghdad and who are leaving. The Army, with heavier equipment, will take over operations in the city as efforts move toward peacekeeping.

When asked if he was happy to be leaving Baghdad, one departing Marine, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Flowers, 21, of Reedsport, Ore., answered: "Damned straight. This is not the best place in world."

His friend Lance Cpl. Joshua E. Hubbard, also 21, from Dewer, Okla., said he felt satisfied that the Marines' mission here was a success.

"These people have never been so damn glad to see somebody come into their lives," he said from atop an armored vehicle as it passed by the Ministry of Trade, where some Iraqi men were looting the last bits of battered furniture.

Nearby, a group of generator vendors were doing brisk business. Among them was Muhaned Azawi, 35, who by noon had sold four generators for $700, an amount far exceeding what most Iraqis earn in a year.

"When the electricity returns, the price will go down," he said. "But I don't care. The Iraqis need electricity."

Meanwhile, officials at the National Museum in Baghdad said more evidence had surfaced that looting there had been carried out in part by professional art thieves who used the chaos as cover to make off with artifacts sought by private collectors, and that they had been assisted by museum employees.

There were other signs yesterday of an easing of the difficulties of war. In the southern port town of Umm Qasr, the British military said it had restored rail service from there to Basra, which it said would be used to deliver food and other basic supplies.

Also, the United Nations said that its first convoy of food, about 50 trucks' worth from Jordan, had arrived in Baghdad. The full extent of the role of the United Nations is unclear.

Along with Hussein's finance minister and his scientific adviser, the U.S. military said that Khala Khader al-Salahat, a member of the Abu Nidal terror group, surrendered Friday in Baghdad.

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