Mon, May 26, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Rebuilding in Iraq starts to take form

FRESH SLATE The US civil administrator, Paul Bremer, fired all state media and defense ministry employees and the oil industry aims to start selling in a few weeks

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

Iraqis representing various ethnic groups discuss politics shortly before they privately voted in separate committees for 24 members of an interim city council in the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, on Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

US-administered Iraq stepped up reconstruction efforts on Saturday, announcing oil sales would restart soon, choosing a key city council and paying the first wages since the war to vital workers.

Thamir Ghadhban, director of the oil ministry and de facto oil minister, said Iraq would be back in the oil market within two to three weeks, after 13 years of sanctions were lifted on Thursday by the UN Security Council.

The United Nations gave the United States and Britain broad powers to run Iraq and its oil industry, and to use revenues to reconstruct the country. Iraq has the world's second largest oil reserves.

"It will take a few weeks but we should be producing 1.3 to 1.5 million barrels per day by the middle of next month," Ghadhban said.

Buoyed by the prospect of income soon, the US administration paid the first state wages since the war to oust Saddam Hussein ended early last month.

It doled out dinars bearing Saddam's face to thousands of electricity workers who, with cables and equipment regularly stolen, still struggle to restore power to Baghdad six weeks after the former president was toppled.

Many Iraqis say that with anarchy and an abundance of cheap weapons, the crime rate has reached unprecedented levels and security is at its worst in Iraq's modern history.

In a country where people are divided ethnically and where many resent the US-led occupation even if they are happy to be rid of Saddam, dissent emerges at almost every step.

In the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, local leaders appointed an interim provincial government by vote in the hope of banishing ethnic tensions, but the process drew noisy protests.

The city's Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen and Assyrian communities chose six council members each, with the six independents chosen by religious leaders, military officers, civil leaders and businessmen.

Some 300 delegates selected the 30-member council, which will choose a provincial governor on Tuesday -- another step in US efforts to establish local government after setting up a council in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, earlier this month.

But Arabs, already angered by the detention of five candidates for alleged Baath Party ties, protested along with Turkmen at the lack of an Arab or Turkmen representative on the Kirkuk council among the six "independents" -- four Kurds, one Assyrian and one member of an ethnically mixed tribe.

US Major General Raymond Odierno, presiding over the election, tried to quell protests in the auditorium and said he would review the procedure.

"I will conduct a personal review of the independents' representation and tomorrow I'll make a decision," he said.

In Baghdad, hundreds of sacked state media employees gathered outside a US-established media outlet demanding jobs, a day after the United States dissolved Saddam's information ministry.

The US civil administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, sacked more than 5,000 staff who ran media organisations, including state television and radio, when he abolished the ministry.

US officials said the decision was part of broader moves to rid Iraq of links to Saddam's era. Bremer also dissolved the armed forces, several security bodies and the defense ministry on Friday, firing more than 400,000 employees.

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