Tue, May 27, 2003 - Page 6 News List

The US occupation chief says Iraq is `open for business'


Tensions between US-led occupation authorities and Iraq's residents came to the fore Sunday as the government in the country's second-largest city was dismissed amid rising popular discontent.

But the top US civilian administrator, Paul Bremer, struck a more hopeful note on a visit to Iraq's only deep-water port at Umm Qasr, where he examined reconstruction efforts, and some public service workers were paid.

Bremer declared Iraq "open for business" as he watched ships unloading food aid just a few days after the lifting of UN sanctions.

"I think this is really a wonderful indication of how things are getting better in Iraq ... It is a sign that Iraq is open for business," he said.

In nearby Basra, British forces announced they would replace an Iraqi city council that had been hailed as a model of post-war cooperation with a committee of technocrats chaired by a British military commander in order to make it non-political.

The decision provoked an angry reaction from the 30-member council, which is headed by a local tribal chief and has laboured to re-establish civic order in the southern metropolis.

And in the northern city of Kirkuk a US commander also risked raising local hackles when he swore in six members of the local council whose nominations had been contested on grounds they were mostly from the majority Kurdish community.

The nomination by US officials of the six councillors -- four Kurds, one Turkmen and one Assyrian, appointed to a council of 30 whose other members were elected -- had brought protests from the minority Arab community.

"Why is the running of the country and the government not transferred to Iraqis? Are they still minors who cannot govern their country?" the pro-Iranian Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, a leading Shiite cleric who returned from exile earlier this month asked at the domed Imam Hussain mosque, one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, paid its first visit to prisoners held by the coalition in the Baghdad region, including many from the most-wanted list of 55 former Iraqi leaders.

French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche claimed that one of Saddam Hussein's cousins, Special Republican Guard chief Maher Sufian al-Tikriti, betrayed the deposed Iraqi leader by ordering his elite forces not to defend Baghdad after making a deal with the US.

The paper quoted an Iraqi source close to Saddam's former regime to say the general, responsible for defending the Iraqi capital, left Baghdad aboard a US military transport plane, bound for a US base outside Iraq.

And Time magazine reported yesterday that one of Saddam's sons had tried to contact US occupation officials in Baghdad through an intermediary to negotiate a safe surrender.

A relative of Saddam had approached an intermediary asking the US if Uday Hussein could "work out something" or "get some kind of immunity."

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