The US appointed a new top administrator to spearhead the rebuilding of war-ravaged Iraq, as reports emerged yesterday of deadly clashes between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs north of Baghdad.
Career diplomat and counter-terrorism expert Paul "Jerry" Bremer will head civilian efforts to rebuild Iraq and set it on course for democracy, according to an announcement by US President George W. Bush.
"In selecting Jerry Bremer, our country will be sending one of our best citizens. He's a man with enormous experience. He's a person who knows how to get things done. He's a can-do type person," Bush said in the Oval Office.
"He is the senior coalition civilian official in Iraq," said a senior official, who declined to be named, with General Tommy Franks retaining overall military control.
Bremer will outrank the current civil administrator, retired general Jay Garner, and Zalmay Khalilzad, who will still lead reconstruction efforts and coordinate political reforms with Iraqis.
Bremer, 61, will report directly to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, through whom he will advise Bush "on policies designed to achieve American and coalition goals in Iraq," said a senior official.
Britain, too, named its ambassador to Egypt, John Sawers, as its pointman for Iraq, to help the US set up an interim Iraqi government, the Cairo embassy said yesterday.
"It is crucial that, following Saddam's overthrow, Iraq should be returned to Iraqi rule as soon as possible," he said in a statement.
One of the top goals is to establish security in a country still awash with weapons that do not belong to US troops. Concerns over that were again driven home yesterday with reports that at least three people have died in gun battles between Kurds and Arabs north of the Iraqi capital over the past three days.
Doctors in Khalis, near Baqubah, some 40km north of Bagdhad, said fighting erupted after Arabs began shooting Kurds on the road to the capital from Kirkuk.
"People are taking revenge on each other. Many armed people are in the street and they are taking revenge on each other," Ahmed Mohammed, a doctor at the local hospital, said late Tuesday.
"I can confirm three dead but I believe there are many more."
US troops entered the town overnight to help provide security after local police, who have not been paid in weeks, fled their posts. They left after patrolling the town and promising to send more troops in the coming days.
US troops arrived in Baqubah 10 days ago to secure Diyala Province, where several paramilitary groups are believed to be vying for influence and local government has not functioned for weeks.
But they have yet to fan out across the province, which stretches from the northeastern fringe of Baghdad to the Iranian border.
Meanwhile, the US raised the possibility it had uncovered long-sought evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq.
A defense official in Washington said a tractor trailer seized by US forces last month appears to be part of a mobile lab for making chemical and biological weapons.
"The preliminary review of this piece of equipment reveals it could possibly be part of this mobile chem-bio facility," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
In Baghdad, Iraqi groups named by the United States to take the lead political role after the fall of Saddam Hussein held talks to prepare the formation of an interim government in the next few weeks.