Army arrests capital's `mayor'

In Baghdad, U.S. military asserts authority amid challenges by clerics, Iran

`We can run our own country'

4 soldiers are wounded in a separate attack

200 Iraqi POWs released

Postwar Iraq

April 28, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. forces arrested Baghdad's self-appointed mayor yesterday, bundling Mohammad Zubeidi and seven of his top aides into an Army Humvee after he defied warnings to stop acting as the city's chief administrator.

In a separate incident, four U.S. soldiers were wounded when someone opened fire on their Humvee while it was stopped in morning traffic in central Baghdad. One of the soldiers was in serious condition late yesterday, the U.S. Central Command reported from Qatar.

The attack occurred a day after a flare was fired into an Army-controlled ammunition dump in the city, killing a dozen people in a nearby residential area. Many in the city fear that the increased activity is building up to a major incident today to mark Saddam Hussein's birthday.

By arresting Zubeidi, the U.S.-led coalition hopes to send a clear message that it won't tolerate challenges to its authority after Hussein's ouster this month. But Zubeidi was the least threatening of several figures claiming authority in the country, and the United States seems less certain about how to deal with the greater challenge posed by Shiite clerics who have taken over administration of large parts of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

Rather than threaten the clerics with arrest, the Army has given them a wide berth, even offering picture identification tags to the armed guards of one Shiite cleric who is part of an Iran-directed religious administration in the city's largest slum.

The contradiction between that and Zubeidi's arrest highlights the growing confusion over who is running Iraq in the absence of a strong, visible central authority. Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, in charge of U.S. land forces in Iraq, warned Wednesday that coalition forces are the sole authority in Iraq, but McKiernan is unknown to most Iraqis. Even Jay Garner, the retired general who heads the U.S. civil affairs administration, has been all but invisible.

That absence has left the field open for many to claim authority, including the long exiled Iraqi businessman Ahmad Chalabi, who initially supported Zubeidi's role. Zubeidi is also an apparent supporter of the country's would-be king, Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, nephew of the country's late king, who was installed by the British and assassinated in 1958.

Most notable among the influences insinuating themselves in Iraq is that of Iran, which is ruled by clerics of the same Muslim sect as the majority of Iraqis.

Kadhem Al Husseini al Haeri, an Iraqi cleric who has been based in the Iranian holy city of Qum for 30 years, is the principal authority behind the Shiites seizing control of parts of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

In southern Iraq, U.S. forces freed 200 Iraqi prisoners of war from their main internment camp as part of plans to release thousands of captured soldiers.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, some Iraqis were receiving Iranian television broadcasts. One Baghdad family said yesterday that it watches two channels, one a U.S. government broadcast and the other from Iran, which it prefers.

The first major shipment of aid reached Baghdad's Shiite community yesterday, coming from Iran.

"We have formed a humanitarian aid committee for Al Sadr City, and this is the first shipment we have received," said Falah Hassan Shenshel, 39, head of the new municipal administration of the Shiite district formerly known as Saddam City but renamed by clerics after the late Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, a powerful Shiite cleric who was assassinated by Hussein in 1999.

Seven trucks carrying 45 tons of rice, flour, sugar, oil and other food staples arrived from the Iranian city of Karmashah, a day's drive away. Other convoys of trucks carrying aid traveled from Iran to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala yesterday, said Masoud Ahmadpoor, 37, head of Karmashah's Red Crescent youth committee. "This is paid for by the Iranian people, who want to help their Iraqi brothers."

Shenshel said his administration is "taking care of water, sewage, health care and other things because we want to prove to the Americans that we can run our own country."

"This is just the nucleus of a government that will expand all over Iraq," he said. "The only aid we want from the Americans is for them to leave and let us govern ourselves."

Far from forcing the cleric-led administration to back down, Army officers responsible for the district have been meeting with members of the clergy to offer assistance.

"This is to prove to us that you are volunteers working with the coalition forces, and our people are going to recognize those who are carrying them as friends," Maj. Kelly Ward said Saturday, referring to photo identification cards the Army had prepared for the armed guards of Sheik Kadhem Al Fartousi, head of the district's humanitarian aid committee.

Fartousi worried that the IDs would suggest his group was working with the coalition forces and asked whether the late al-Sadr's name could be added to the IDs.

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