US prepares for Iraqi assembly as Bremer fights crime

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BAGHDAD

Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 6

The new civilian administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said on Wednesday that a national assembly of Iraqi political leaders that could pave the way for self-rule probably would be held in mid-July, weeks later than originally scheduled by the US.

Speaking at a tour of a refurbished Baghdad jail, Bremer did not say whether the new Iraqi leadership would be a provisional government, as the administration said earlier, or an interim authority. Bremer told Iraqi political leaders at a meeting Friday that the allies favored an interim authority, but Iraqi leaders worry that an interim authority would be much weaker than a fully-formed government. On Tuesday they said they were drafting a formal protest on the issue.

Bremer explained the delay as part of an American-led effort to broaden participation in building an Iraqi authority.

"The group we saw Friday night is not representative of all the Iraqi people and by their own admission they're not representative," he said at the entrance to the freshly-painted Al Karkh jail.

Iraqi political leaders have warned allied representatives that postponing forming an interim government would further damage the image of the United States here. Iraqi politicians have also said that a change in the plans for self-rule could reinforce the widely-held opinion here that the US and its allies invaded Iraq only to harvest its oil riches.

Violence and looting continued. On Wednesday night Reuters reported that a US command post near Fallujah was struck by four explosions that left an American tank burning, according to al-Jazeera television reports citing witnesses.

US officials at the Pentagon and at US central command said they had no information on anything happening in Falluja.

Bremer was peppered with questions on Wednesday about lawlessness, but he insisted the situation was improving.

"This city is not in anarchy," Bremer said, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the jail. "I spent an hour flying over the city yesterday and markets were open, businesses were open, people were out and about."

Iraqi employees at the jail seemed befuddled by the ribbon cutting, for which there was no interpreter. On the ribbon, the name of the jail was mistakenly rendered repeatedly as "Kardt," rather than Karkh.

At the police station, Bremer chatted with US soldiers who went on joint patrols with Iraqi police, while the police gathered at another part of the parking lot, frustrated that they could not get to Bremer to complain that former Baath Party members still ran the police department.

Major Gill Boice of the military police said that Iraqi police were "vetted and they have to sign papers denouncing the Baath Party" before being employed.

In front of the Republican Palace complex where Bremer and the civil authority are based, hundreds of officers from the Iraqi army gathered Wednesday to protest that they had not been paid in two months.