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U.S. Leadership Shake-Up In Baghdad

One top U.S. occupation official left her post Sunday, another was preparing to leave, and a new administrator arrived in the region, ready to take over, less than three weeks after their newborn reconstruction agency opened for business in the postwar chaos of Baghdad.

Besides the rapid-fire changes at the top, there was other unsettling news Sunday for Iraqi rebuilding: Oil production, vital for recovery, may resume more slowly than thought, and it may take two more months to get full electricity back in Baghdad.

As if to underscore the challenges facing the Americans, new arson fires broke out Sunday, sending palls of smoke billowing over a city wracked by looting and other lawlessness since a U.S.-British invasion toppled President Saddam Hussein's government last month.

The departed official, ex-ambassador Barbara Bodine, was coordinator for central Iraq, including Baghdad, within the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. The office thus far has assembled some 800 specialists from U.S. government agencies and allied governments to organize aid, reconstruction and the establishment of a new government for Iraq.

An ORHA spokesman, U.S. Army Maj. John Cornelio, confirmed that Bodine was leaving Baghdad on Sunday. But the agency issued no statement explaining the reason for her swift departure, just two weeks after she chaired a familiarization meeting with top bureaucrats of the former Baghdad city administration.

In other developments:

  • U.S. weapons hunters — empty-handed after seven weeks of field work — are still operating without translators, have had almost no contact with Iraqi scientists and can't tell what's missing from looted sites where suspected weapons of mass destruction were thought to be hidden.

    Some of the problems are logistical. Others seem to be the result of limited manpower and expertise.

    Experts say the changes are desperately needed if the Bush administration is to prove Iraq had the chemical or biological weapons the White House said it went to war to destroy.

  • The leader of Iraq's largest Shiite Muslim group denounced the U.S.-led occupation forces Sunday and demanded they pull out and allow the Iraqi people to establish their own government.

    Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, who returned to his homeland Saturday after spending more than two decades in exile in neighboring Iran, made the call in the predominantly Shiite city Nasiriyah despite the presence of a squad of U.S. Marines who were protecting him.

  • The general who commanded the Iraq war issued a statement Sunday saying Saddam Hussein's Baath Party "is dissolved," ordering the political organization that ruled the country for 35 years to cease existence. The message from Gen. Tommy Frank was read over the U.S.-controlled Information Radio.
  • Iraqi oil experts, reassessing damage to their industry from postwar looting, have scaled back projections by one-third and expect to produce only 1 million barrels a day in June, the acting oil minister Thamir Ghadban said Sunday.

    In one sign of the energy shortfall in this oil-rich nation, Baghdad expects within two weeks to begin importing gasoline from neighboring Kuwait to help motorists who now line up for hours to buy scant supplies at city gas stations.

  • American authorities have promised rewards to Iraqis for information leading to discovery of covert weapons programs, Information Radio announced Saturday. The lengthy spot on the Arabic-language radio was part of a growing U.S. government campaign to find Iraqi sources potentially knowledgeable about prohibited arms programs.

    The Washington Post reported Sunday that Bodine, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, was being reassigned as deputy director of the State Department's political-military division.

    No replacement for her has been named yet, Cornelio said. The replacement for chief U.S. administrator Jay Garner, on the other hand, has been known for more than a week.

    L. Paul Bremer, a longtime State Department aide, flew to Qatar this weekend as he prepared to take over in Baghdad as head of ORHA. Bremer, 61, whose new agency is essentially a military administration reporting to the U.S. Central Command, flew to Qatar with the Pentagon's top soldier, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers.

    Spokesman Cornelio said Garner also was in Qatar, presumably meeting with his successor. The 65-year-old retired Army lieutenant general, who arrived in Baghdad on April 21, had said his assignment here would be short-term, but it had been expected to last three months.

    Now, Garner has said, he will depart after making a "good handoff" to Bremer — probably by late May. Bremer is expected in Baghdad this week.

    In its three weeks here, the reconstruction agency has made some inroads in a city and country drifting without law and order, or other government functions, since U.S. troops took control of Baghdad around April 9.

    The Americans have deployed some Iraqi police in Baghdad's streets, have made nominal US$20 emergency salary payments to draw many bureaucrats back to government offices, and have inaugurated a political process through which Iraq's anti-Saddam factions may produce an interim government by June.

    But many ordinary Iraqis complain loudly that the U.S. occupation has failed to restore basic services.

    Baghdadis are getting less than half the electrical power they need. That, in turn, has limited the treatment and pumping of clean water. Worst of all, Iraqis say, looters and other criminals are still free to prey on ordinary citizens and their property.

    On Sunday, the interim head of the national Electricity Commission, Kareem Hasan, told reporters that full power may not be restored for two months until repairs are completed to transmission lines extensively damaged by U.S. bombing and vandals, who shoot down power lines to darken areas for looting.

    Iraq's interim oil minister, Thamir Ghadban, who like Hasan was designated by ORHA, said his ministry was scaling back projections for resumed national oil production, saying it might reach only 1 million barrels a day — instead of 1.5 million — in June. He said damage to oil industry equipment from looting was more extensive than initially thought.

    The dimensions of the challenges facing Bodine in Baghdad were apparent at her initial meeting with city officials on April 27.

    "Working with the technocrats to get everything up and running is a first priority," she said then. But the setting was a meeting room without light or electricity, in a looted, debris-strewn city building, with nine Iraqi men sitting glumly around a table, clearly unhappy.

    Bodine had another problem as well — an Iraqi opposition figure named Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, who had set himself up as a rival "governor" of Baghdad. That same day, April 27, the U.S. military arrested al-Zubaidi, holding him for two days and ending his challenge. Now his American rival is gone, too.

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