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US official vows to build new Iraq

Baghdad, April 21 (Reuters): US administrator Jay Garner made his first visit to Baghdad today, pledging to build a new Iraq from the ashes of war, but opposition stiffened to American domination of Iraq’s reconstruction.

Garner, a retired general charged with rebuilding Iraq, flew in to assess needs in the battered capital amid scepticism from many Iraqis and worries abroad about Washington’s role following its devastating overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

In Moscow, a senior foreign ministry official said Russia — a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council — would insist on UN arms inspectors declaring Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction before sanctions against it could be lifted.

Washington is pushing for quick scrapping of the 12-year-old sanctions but Russia, France and several other European and West Asian countries fear that once they are gone the UN will have no leverage over Iraq’s future. The US failed to win Security Council approval for the war, and has made clear that it believes its victory gives it the right to dominate the shaping of the new Iraq. Garner, head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), began his four-day tour with a visit to Baghdad’s Yarmuk hospital, which has been ransacked by looters.

Zayed Abdul Karim, the head of the hospital, led Garner through dark, dusty corridors littered with broken glass. The hospital has had no electricity for two weeks since Baghdad’s power was cut during the US air bombardment. The lights came back on in parts of eastern Baghdad last night, hours before Garner’s arrival.

Garner said his priority was to restore basic services such as water and electricity “as soon as we can”.

“What we need to do from this day forward is to give birth to a new system in Iraq. It begins with us working together, but it is hard work and it takes a long time. We will help you as long as you want us to,” he said.

Some doctors at the hospital were suspicious of US intentions. “I want to cry, because these are only words,” a doctor who gave her name as Iman said after listening to Garner.

“Saddam Hussein was an unjust ruler, but maybe one day we could have got rid of him, and not had these foreigners come in to our country.”

Falah Salim, one of the Iraqis who flocked to a US army office in Baghdad today to seek work, said he had lost everything in the war: his job, his house, his furniture. “Can Mr Garner give them back to me' Can he make a future for us'” he asked. “We need a home, jobs, water, electricity. We need everything.”

Highlighting the confusing power vacuum that has prevailed since Saddam was toppled, a US official said Washington did not recognise Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, a former exile who has declared himself governor of Baghdad.

Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency quoted a foreign ministry official as saying chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, who headed UN teams in Iraq before the war, should be allowed to return and quickly finish their work. “This could be done within a couple of weeks as it is obvious that there are no such weapons there,” he said.

US President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq on March 20, saying he wanted to oust Saddam and rid the country of chemical and biological weapons, but so far no confirmed trace has been found of such arms.

Minister held

US-led troops, their offensive role all but over, widened the dragnet in their search for dozens of leading members of the ousted government, seizing Saddam’s scientific research minister Adbul-Khaleq Abdul-Ghafur.

The opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC) said Saddam’s one surviving son-in-law — two others were executed in the 1990s after defecting — had surrendered to them and would be handed over to US forces.

The INC said Jamal Mustafa Sultan al-Tikriti had given himself up along with a top official of Saddam’s secret police, Khaled Abdallah, after both returned from Syria. It said Jamal’s brother Kamal, the head of Saddam’s personal guard, was still in that country. The fate of Saddam himself and his sons Uday and Qusay remained a mystery 12 days after US-led forces pushed into the centre of Baghdad, ending his 24 years of iron rule.

Ahmad Chalabi, founder of the Iraqi National Congress and a favourite of the Pentagon, told BBC Radio his information indicated Saddam was still in Iraq, contrary to speculation that he might have fled to Syria.

The commander of a US tank unit that fired on a Baghdad hotel, killing two cameramen during the battle for the Iraqi capital on April 8, said in an interview with a French magazine that he had not been aware the building was packed with foreign journalists. Captain Philip Wolford told Nouvel Observateur he authorised the attack on the Palestine Hotel after his men spotted what appeared to be someone using binoculars on the roof. “I feel bad, my men feel bad,” he said.

Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Jose Couso, a cameraman for Spanish television channel Tele 5, died after a tank shell hit the 15th floor of the hotel.

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