U.S. overseer arrives to run the new Iraq

Garner vows to restore services as fast as he can, not to overstay welcome

`We will help as long as you want'

2,000 Shiite Muslims say, `No, no to colonialism'

Postwar Iraq

April 22, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The retired lieutenant general the Bush administration appointed to run Iraq, Jay Garner, arrived yesterday to a muted reception, promising to restore services as fast as possible and not to overstay his welcome.

In the first appearance of a senior U.S. official before an Iraqi audience since the end of major fighting, Garner made a low-key address to a gathering of doctors at the 1,000-bed Yarmuk Hospital.

After touring the heavily looted hospital, which has been without electricity for two weeks, Garner promised to restore services as fast as possible.

"What we need to do from this day forward is to give birth to a new system in Iraq," he said. "It begins with us working together, but it is hard work and it takes a long time. We will help you as long as you want us to."

The length of his stay was left up in the air. "I don't think I would put 90 days as a mark on the wall, but we will be here as long as it takes. We'll leave fairly rapidly," he said.

Much of the capital remains without electricity and television, making it impossible for many Iraqis to know that Garner had landed to take his post as head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

It was a far different entry for the general than the one broadly envisioned in Washington, where there had been hopes before the war that the new civilian administrator would be greeted with warmth.

Several other political forces have beaten the general to Baghdad, including vocal Shiite Muslim groups who demonstrated yesterday in the central square against the U.S. presence. About 2,000 Shiites held green and black banners saying "No, no to colonialism."

The Shiites also are gathering by the hundreds of thousands in Karbala to observe one of the holiest Shiite rituals, commemorating the death of the grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

In a heavily armored caravan protected by U.S. troops, Garner also visited a sewage plant and an electrical power station.

Barbara Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen, said yesterday that Mohammed al-Zubaidi, the Iraqi exile from the United States who has declared himself mayor of Baghdad, was not recognized by the United States. Bodine will run the central region of Iraq under Garner.

There was some semblance of normal life here yesterday, with heavy traffic jams in some sections of the city, long lines at gas stations, and with electricity appearing in some quarters last night.

Fresh tomatoes, green vegetables and cartons of eggs were for sale at some markets. At one street stall, a tray of frozen chickens in white paper bags defrosted naturally in the sun.

But residents continued to complain about the lack of electricity and running water. By not making too much of a public appearance yesterday, Garner distanced himself from being the provider of instant solutions.

At the hospital, where preparations for the general's visit were made the day before by Dr. Frederick Burkle, a deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, there was a mixed reception and signs of how politically difficult the task ahead will be.

Dr. Haider Fathel Abid, 28, chief resident at the hospital, said that while the general had made many promises, "I trust in these promises because it is the only hope this country can have." The doctor said the general had been "straightforward and very practical."

On the grounds of the hospital, a Shiite religious leader from Najaf, Sheik Mafouk Shamousy, and his followers, who have installed themselves as a security force, said they had taken control of the hospital and would reject "any foreign and Western elements."

The sheik, 33, who was standing inside the hospital gates, said he had been sent by the Shiites of Najaf to make sure that the hospital was kept under Islamic control.

"We will be keeping an eye on the doctors and nurses, and the control of corruption on the medical side," he said, after Garner had left. The sheik said he had paid salaries to some of the staff, bought back medical supplies stolen by looters and restored the generators.

But Abid made clear that the armed Shiites were not welcome and that not all of the staff who had been offered salaries had accepted.

Garner is expected to take up residence in the Republican Palace, the ornate habitat of Hussein, which was badly damaged by the Americans. A U.S. soldier on guard at the huge stone gateway said preparations were well under way to make tents and other facilities on the spacious grounds available to the Garner operation. The bombed Oil Ministry stands beside the entrance to the palace.

The Bush administration has planned a four-day campaign- style trip for the general, which seems as much tailored for U.S. television as for the Iraqis. For the next three days he will travel to the historically Kurdish northern areas of Kirkuk and Mosul, and make appearances in Baghdad on the fourth day.

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