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U.S. official leading rebuilding efforts arrives in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The retired U.S. general picked to lead efforts to rebuild Iraq's collapsed infrastructure and government arrived in Baghdad Monday and Iraqi technicians reported that they had started one of the city's electrical generating plants and might be producing electricity as soon as Tuesday.

Coalition forces also captured another member of Saddam Hussein's regime, Muhammad Hamza al Zubaydi, the commander of Baath Party's operations in the central Euphrates region. U.S. officials called him the highest ranking official taken captive so far. He was the eighth official to fall under U.S. custody of 55 that the U.S. military has said it wants to detain.

But Saddam remained a fugitive, and it was unclear what efforts were being made to find him. Zab Sephna, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, a Pentagon-backed group made up of anti-Saddam Iraqi exiles, said the INC believes Saddam is in the Diala region near the border with Iran and that there were numerous reports of Baathists putting up Saddam's picture in Baqubah, a city northeast of Baghdad.

Earlier in the day, Saddam's son-in-law Jamal Mustafa Abdullah Sultan al Tikriti, turned himself in to the INC and was handed over to U.S. military authorities at 3 a.m.

Sethna said al Tikriti and a cousin, Khalid Najem Abdullah Sultan al Tikriti, had fled to Syria but agreed to surrender because "this was a better option than spending a lifetime on the run."

Another official, former senior intelligence officer Khalil Ibrahim al Nasseri, also turned himself in, the INC said, but had not yet been transferred to the Americans.

Meanwhile, Iraqis by the hundreds were turning to the Red Crescent Society for help finding relatives who vanished during the war.

Hayder al Taie, who heads the Red Crescent's tracing department, said many of the missing disappeared while running errands in the city. Others were soldiers when the war started. The bodies of dead Iraqi soldiers and civilians are still being recovered around the city, he added.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who heads the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, touched down at Baghdad International Airport at around 8 a.m. local time and immediately joined a convoy that took him into the city center for a tour that was intended to highlight U.S. concerns about lawlessness and a lack of public services in the Iraqi capital.

His first stop was a local police station. He then visited the 700-bed Yarmuk Hospital in west central Baghdad, where a generator, donated by the charity CARE, had been installed in the last 24 hours.

Then he made a stop at the city's al Doura power plant, where the appearance of smoke from one the stacks earlier Monday had caused many Iraqis to wonder if power would soon be on. Most of Baghdad has been without electricity for nearly three weeks.

But Seif Saad, a technician at the plant, said it would be another day before there was electricity. Saad said the smoke was just an indication that the plant's boiler was being heated. Once the boiler is functioning, he said, much of Baghdad will have electricity.

Garner was accompanied by about 20 aides. Another 450 people are expected in the country to help administer the new civil government.

Garner shared few details about his plan for Iraq, though restoring water and electricity service would be his top priorities. In response to a question about how long he would be in Iraq, he indicated he planned to stay only several weeks. "We will leave fairly rapidly," he said.

During his whirlwind tour, Garner often introduced himself simply by saying: "Hi, I'm Jay."

Garner's visit drew some protests. Some Iraqis said they did not trust an American coming to rebuild their nation. Some said they did not like the idea of an American leading their nation.

About 500 people engaged in a noisy anti-American demonstration near the Palestine Hotel. Such protests have become an almost daily part of the chaotic political atmosphere that has given rise to at least 65 Iraqi political groups, all of which are vying for a place in the new regime.

Among them: the Assyrian Democratic Party, the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Islamic Democratic Party.

Many of them are assuming positions of authority, though it is unclear just how they are able to do so. One, Mohammed Mohsen al Zubaidi, already was making plans Monday for his meeting with Garner. Zubaidi has declared himself the mayor of Baghdad and has been meeting with other local leaders on plans for rebuilding.

The U.S. government has said it does not recognize Zubaidi's claim.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Carol Rosenberg and Peter Smolowitz contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030414 USIRAQ GARNER, 20030416 USIRAQ POSTWAR