Iraqi Kurds welcome U.S. overseer

Garner helped in 1991

reconstruction of Iraq gets off to stumbling start

Postwar Iraq

April 23, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The leader of the interim U.S. military authority, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, visited Kurdish strongholds in northern Iraq that welcomed him warmly in gratitude for the relief effort he led 12 years ago to help Kurds after Saddam Hussein crushed a 1991 uprising in the region.

But with security still only marginal in large parts of the country, and even some neighborhoods in Baghdad, some of Garner's U.S. subordinates were unable to travel to Baghdad yesterday to start work on the reconstruction of the country. Iraqi workers in Baghdad were left to try to straighten out their bombed and looted offices, but there was little they could do.

In Baghdad, there was a persistent sense of expectation mixed with unease as employees of the former government waited for the U.S. help they had been promised. At the Ministry of Health, the managers of the public health services have been cleaning up after looters for the past four days, and waiting.

In general, the professionals interviewed yesterday said they were skeptical of U.S. intentions, and in some cases there were expressions of hostility.

Most were angry at the U.S. military for failing to protect their buildings from looting. They were astonished, they said, that the Oil Ministry had been so heavily protected by the U.S. military, and in a telltale sign, the building of the former Oil Ministry was left unprotected and ransacked by the looters.

Some blamed the Americans for the destruction of the very institutions they are supposed to help get restarted.

"The Americans want to stay the longest period of time possible, they want to sell their goods and services. It's a war of money," said Ghassan Abda Razak al-Obaidy, a dentist who had rushed to the empty Health Ministry for advice on where he could find treatment for his wounded wife.

"Freedom is the only thing I've touched," Obaidy added. "I have to eat. I have to treat my wife."

Despite the havoc, Naira Alwaqafi, 60, the head of maternal child health, said she and her colleagues would prefer to revive things themselves. They needed practical help: security, computers, and fax links to reach the provinces, she said, but they did not want an American overlord.

"We have done our job in a good manner during the sanctions. There was no health catastrophe because of our efforts," she said.

Alwaqafi said an army officer, Maj. Joseph Bird, who visited on Monday promised to "support and not take over."

Did she believe him? "I don't know," replied Nawar Majid Abawi, director of the immunization programs. Abawi said she was most concerned about a breakdown in the polio prevention campaign because of the war.

One reason the Iraqi health workers have not seen a U.S. adviser is that the Bush administration suddenly switched appointees.

Dr. Frederick Burkle, a well-known public health specialist and a deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, was told Monday that he would not be the American in charge of health in Iraq, a USAID official said. Instead, the Pentagon has chosen a retired Michigan state health official, James K. Haveman Jr.

In another part of Baghdad, the Ministry of Industry is a burned hulk, its interior stripped of everything of value. About 30 workers have turned up in the past few days to sign a registration book and stare at the lobby floor, hoping that something good might arise from the black ashes.

One of the major questions on workers' minds was when they were going to receive their salaries.

At the Industry Ministry, Muhammad al-Riqabi, 33, an accountant's assistant and the father of two infant children, walked out of the remains of the building with a look of desolation.

"How are we going to get wages? How are we going to eat?" he asked.

But he said he was more than willing to work with the Americans, because he was tired of "corrupt people, the only ones who got ahead."

Members of a 12-person team from the U.S. Treasury who are supposed to get the Iraqi Finance Ministry running again are also waiting in Kuwait.

They have said they plan to pay Baghdad workers in U.S. dollars but acknowledge it will take several weeks at best to get payrolls in order to determine who should be paid and how much. Many of the payroll documents have probably been burned or looted, officials said.

The American chosen by the Bush administration to advise the industry portfolio, Ambassador Timothy Carney, is waiting in Kuwait City for a go-ahead from Central Command to come north.

Several hundred U.S. advisers who are part of the reconstruction operation are waiting there with him.

The U.S. Central Command has cited security reasons for the delayed arrival of the Americans. Garner is not expected to start work at his headquarters at the Republican Palace in Baghdad until the end of the week.

Reinforcing the idea that U.S. forces may still face serious dangers, military officials at Central Command headquarters outside Doha, Qatar, reported that suicide vests laden with explosives and a coffee table rigged with bombs were found in Baghdad.

"We remain concerned about the potential for suicide attacks," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks. "We know there's someone that produces these, distributes them and intended at least to use the ones we found."

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