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The 'New' Iraq Takes Shape

A council of up to nine Iraqis will probably lead the country's interim government through the coming months, the American civil administrator said Monday.

Iraq's U.S. administrator, retired general Jay Garner, said he expected a small group of leaders to take the reins of post-Saddam Iraq. Such a notion had been discussed last week at a political meeting in Baghdad.

"What you may see is as many as seven, eight, nine leaders working together to provide leadership," said Garner, who was making a one-day trip Monday to Basra, Iraq's second-biggest city.

Iraqi faction leaders and U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said they would meet again in coming weeks and hoped to form an interim government sometime early next month.

In other developments:

  • The World Food Program estimates most Iraqi families have only enough food to last until the end of the month. The WFP is rushing flour, rice and beans to the country, hoping to head off a disaster.
  • Iran urged the United States not to allow an Iranian opposition group to attack the country from Iraq. The People's Mujahedeen is on the U.S. State Department's terrorist list, yet it still signed a truce with the United States on April 15 that allowed it to keep weapons to defend itself against Iranian-backed attacks.
  • U.S. soldiers explored one of Saddam Hussein's most elaborate tunnel complexes buried deep in the mountains, puzzled as to why the Iraqi leader built an entire oil refinery encased in rock.
  • The U.S. military announced the arrest of a former Iraqi intelligence chief, Adil Salfeg Al-Azarui, who is not in the coalition's "deck of cards." The Los Angeles Times reports several Iraqi scientists are talking to former U.N. inspectors about whether to surrender. Some may have information about Saddam's illicit arms programs.
  • Iraqis over the weekend dug up 72 bodies from a shallow mass grave near the southern city of Najaf. Bullet casings also were found near the graves, which witnesses said were filled with men and women executed after a failed 1991 Shiite Muslim uprising against Saddam Hussein.
  • The British took a step toward pushing their tiny corner of Baghdad back into normalcy, reopening what used to be their embassy — but stopping short of calling it that.
  • The Iraqi medical staff that treated American Pfc. Jessica Lynch are adamant they took good care of their POW and even tried to return her to U.S. forces themselves, the Toronto Star reported from Iraq.

    After several independent interviews in Nasariya with three doctors, two nurses, one hospital administrator and local residents, a different story than the dramatic Hollywood-blockbuster-style rescue by U.S. troops has emerged.

    "The most important thing to know is that the Iraqi soldiers and commanders had left the hospital almost two days earlier," Dr. Harith Houssona told the Star's reporter, Mitch Potter.

    Knowing there were no Iraqi troops in the area the medical team that cared for Lynch, 19, at the facility formerly known as Saddam Hospital told the Star they were ready to hand over their patient. But the doctors claim when they sent an ambulance carrying Lynch toward U.S. lines, American troops forced it to turn back.

    The Iraqi leaders Garner referred to were Massoud Barzani; leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party; Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress; Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord; and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose elder brother heads the Shiite group Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

    The group has already met several times and Garner said it would probably be expanded to include a Christian and perhaps another Sunni Muslim leader.

    Garner also said he expects the newly appointed L. Paul Bremer, former head of the U.S. State Department's counterterrorism office, to take charge of the political process within the American postwar administration. Bremer is expected to arrive in Iraq by next week, Garner said.

    "He will get more involved in the political process. I'm doing all of it and don't want to do all of it," Garner said.

    He said the appointment of someone like Bremer had been planned all along. "I'll stay a while. There's got to be a good handoff," he said.

    Garner announced the release of Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, an exile who was detained April 27 by U.S. forces after he put himself in charge of Baghdad. Al-Zubaidi was released after 48 hours on condition that he not resume his activities.

    Iraq's American administrators have appointed two Iraqi oil officials and a retired American oil executive to head Iraq's Oil Ministry, a spokesman for the team helping to rebuild Iraq said Sunday. The head of the ministry's advisory board will be Philip J. Carroll, a retired chief executive of Shell Oil Co., Kincannon said. Shell Oil Co. is the U.S. arm of London-based Royal Dutch-Shell Group.

    The retired general blamed U.N. sanctions for gasoline shortages that have made some Iraqis angry at American forces, The New York Times reported Monday.

    "The U.N. really needs to lift the sanctions so we don't have all of this," Garner said.

    Gasoline shortages have limited public transportation and discouraged Iraqis from driving to work. President Bush has urged the U.N. Security Council to lift the sanctions, which were imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Some Security Members want U.N. inspectors to join the hunt for weapons of mass destruction before sanctions are removed.

    Meanwhile, the northern city of Mosul took a small step toward controlling its destiny Monday, naming a cross-section of residents to run the city alongside the American military until elections can be held, a U.S. military official and news reports said.

    An American soldier died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in Kuwait early Monday, U.S. Central Command said. The incident was under investigation. Another soldier died of a gunshot wound after an apparent accident involving his own weapon in northern Iraq, Central Command said.

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