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Americans reject self-styled governor

Baghdad, April 21 (Reuters): The US does not recognise a former exile who says he is governor of Baghdad and Washington thinks his deputy cannot represent Iraq at an emergency Opec meeting this week, a senior US official said today.

Barbara Bodine, coordinator for central Iraq in the US civil administration overseeing reconstruction, said Washington did not recognise Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, who said last week he had been made chief of an interim council to run the capital.

“We don’t really know much about him except that he’s declared himself mayor,” said Bodine, a former US ambassador to Yemen.

“We don’t recognise him. There hasn’t been a process of selection. Once there’s a process, then whoever.”

Zubaidi says he is a member of Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress and was elected by people representing clerics, academics, Shias and Sunnis, Christians, writers and journalists. He said he was in close contact with the US military.

However, neither he nor US officials have explained how or when the elections took place and who organised them.

Zubaidi’s self-styled deputy, Jawdat al-Obeidi, said yesterday he would lead an Iraqi delegation to the emergency meeting of Opec starting on Thursday in Vienna.

“He can’t,” said Bodine during a visit to Baghdad by Jay Garner, the retired US general heading the US civilian administration for post-war Iraq.

“I don’t think Opec would take him. We wouldn’t prevent him but I would find it odd that Opec would accept him as a representative,” she said.

Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zanganeh has said only a government recognised by the UN could represent Iraq at the Opec meeting, an Iranian newspaper reported today.

There was no immediate comment from Opec headquarters in Vienna.

The Opec meeting to review market conditions and output policy was called after oil prices dropped by about 30 per cent in one month.

The choice of representatives had presented Washington with an awkward diplomatic problem.

It has de facto control of the country after toppling Saddam Hussein but does not want to appear to dictate Iraqi policy, especially on oil.

US officials had said it was possible nobody would represent Iraq at the Opec meeting.

One Opec source said last week the cartel had invited Saddam’s oil minister, who is on a US wanted list.

Garner, speaking at a sewage treatment plant south of Baghdad, also cast doubts over Iraqis claiming positions of authority.

“There are a lot of de facto leaders,” he said.

“I don’t know who they are but our goal is to start a process whereby the Iraqi people elect their own leaders.

“We think the playing field is level. We haven’t appointed anyone or recognised anyone.”

Garner heads the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which was set up to help rebuild Iraq and prepare for an eventual interim government made up of Iraqis.

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