Wed, May 07, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US sees `nucleus' of Iraqi leadership within a few days


A "nucleus of leadership" in Iraq may be in place within days to guide the country through the decisive selection of an interim government, the US civil administrator said.

Iraq's third-largest city, Mosul, is already moving ahead. Representatives of its tribal and ethnic groups named a cross-section of residents Monday to run municipal affairs alongside the US military.

In Washington, US officials said a top Iraqi scientist was taken into custody in Iraq.

Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash is believed to have information about Iraq's alleged banned biological weapons program. She is the 19th of 55 most-wanted Iraqis in US custody.

Meanwhile, in an example of the lawlessness of the ousted Iraqi regime, The New York Times reported that former president Saddam Hussein removed nearly US$1 billion in cash from the country's Central Bank shortly before US forces began bombing Baghdad.

The money -- some US$900 million in US$100 bills and US$100 million in euros -- was taken from the bank in three tractor trailers. Saddam's younger son, Qusai, and Abid al-Haimd Mahmood, Saddam's personal assistant, organized the removal of the cash on Saddam's orders, the report said.

The operation, which took place at 4am on March 18, was confirmed by US Treasury official George Mullinax, who is assigned to help rebuild Iraq's banking system. Mullinax said that about US$900 million was taken by "Saddam Hussein's people."

A US Army Special Forces officer, Colonel Ted Seel, said intelligence indicated that a convoy of tractor trailers crossed the border into Syria, but that the contents of the trucks was unknown.

With the Iraqi president gone, US officials have been consulting five anti-Saddam Iraqi leaders in their efforts to form an interim national government ahead of a critical conference at the end of May.

"The five opposition leaders have begun having meetings, and they are going to bring in leaders from inside Iraq and see if we can't form a nucleus of leadership as we enter into June," said retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner, the US civil administrator.

"By the middle of the month you'll really see the nucleus of a temporary Iraq government."

Garner also said Monday that he expected the newly appointed L. Paul Bremer, a longtime US State Department aide, to take charge of the political side of Iraq's postwar administration.

Garner, who arrived in Iraq two weeks ago as director of Washington's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, spoke with reporters during a one-day trip to the southern city of Basra, where he visited a hospital and oil refinery and met with local Iraqi leaders.

As many as 500 delegates are expected to gather by late May to try and select an executive leadership for an "interim authority" to govern while Iraqis fashion a new constitution and then hold elections.

Five opposition leaders have been consulting in recent days on next steps: Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani; Ahmad Chalabi of the exiled opposition Iraqi National Congress; Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord; and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose elder brother heads the Shiite group Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

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