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Restoring order in Iraq may require more troops, official says

BAGHDAD, Iraq—U.S. officials announced Monday that the American military had captured two more important officials from Saddam Hussein's fallen regime, but turmoil continued to dog the country and the U.S. effort to rebuild it.

The nation's top uniformed military officer hinted Monday that restoring order may require more American troops than originally planned. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said security and infrastructure problems were the two major issues for Iraq and that U.S. troops would have a significant role to play in the country until Iraqis could run their police force independently and basic services were returned.

Additional military units heading to Baghdad—namely the 1st Armored Division, based in Germany—were intended to replace the 3rd Infantry Division and other units that fought the war, but Myers said Monday that they "may" replace units now in Iraq.

Myers also said other countries had offered troops to buttress the American presence. He declined to be specific and said their "exact disposition" hadn't been determined.

His comments illustrated the dilemma the United States confronts as it tries to put Iraq back on its feet without relying on either a lengthy military occupation or recycled bureaucrats from Saddam's regime.

The difficulty was made clear again Monday when Iraq's U.S.-approved health minister resigned after questions were raised about his Baath Party pedigree.

The new U.S. civilian overseer, former diplomat L. Paul Bremer, who arrived Monday to take over the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance from retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, is facing his own housecleaning. Barbara Bodine, the State Department official who had been overseeing the reconstruction of Baghdad, was reassigned after three weeks on the job, and at least five other senior members of the ORHA staff also will be returning home, a senior U.S. official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, a tearful homecoming for the head of Iraq's largest opposition group came to an abrupt end Monday evening when dozens of followers of a rival cleric shoved their way toward the balcony on which the newly returned leader stood, prompting his bodyguards to hurry him indoors for fear that he might be assassinated.

The bright spot in the day was an announcement that U.S. forces had captured Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha al Azzawi, the British-trained microbiologist known as "Dr. Germ" for her work developing biological weapons for Saddam. U.S. officials said they also had seized the former chief of staff of the Iraqi armed forces, Ibrahim Ahmad Abdul Sattaf Muhammed al Tikriti, but a Pentagon official cautioned that his identity hadn't been verified.

The abrupt resignation of Health Minister Dr. Ali Shinan—whom critics accuse of corruption and diverting medical supplies at the expense of poor Iraqis—underscored the first challenge for the U.S. rebuilding effort: how to restore services and chart a new course for Iraq without relying on former Baathist officials. The task is complicated by the fact that Baath Party membership was virtually a condition of employment for anyone who wanted a government job in the last three decades.

"We need to move humanitarian assistance. We need to move medical supplies. We need to get people back to work. We need to make salaries. We need to produce petrol. We need to produce electricity. We need to get the sanitation systems working," ORHA's Steve Browning said Monday after touring the 1,000-bed al Yarmouk Hospital. "All of these things have to be done, and the people who do these things are, for the most part, members of the Baath Party."

On Saturday, Browning announced that Shinan had signed a statement disavowing and renouncing the Arab Socialist Renaissance Party of Iraq, or Baath Party. But some translators said the word "rafdh" in the Arabic portion of the agreement meant "a strong refusal" rather than a condemnation of the party. Shinan, formerly No. 3 in the ministry, exacerbated matters by refusing to clarify his position.

Asked repeatedly by reporters Saturday whether he condemned the party, Shinan said, "I say that this question is incorrect," explaining that millions of Iraqis were forced to join the Baath Party under Saddam.

Shinan defended his record. "I didn't commit any criminal acts against humanity or the children of Iraq," he said, adding, "My country is in dire need of my help."

The chaos in Najaf highlighted another obstacle to U.S. reconstruction efforts: a growing power struggle in Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim community. Since Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, returned to his homeland Saturday after 23 years in exile in neighboring Iran, he has called repeatedly for an end to the struggle for religious control that has emerged since Saddam's fall.

The most visible instigator in this war for Shiite hearts and minds is Najaf cleric Moqtader al Sadr, the youngest son of Muhammad Sadiq al Sadr, a powerful marjah, or senior spiritual leader, who was slain by Saddam in 1999. Followers of the marjah and his son disrupted Hakim's homecoming at Grand Imam Ali Shrine on Monday, holding up posters and a painting of the senior Sadr, whose name they chanted as they beat their chests.

Minutes earlier, Hakim warned thousands of his cheering supporters who packed the shrine that "our enemies want us divided. Our weapon to fight them is our unity. There has to be peace and there has to be security, and we have to work together to make this happen."

But a Sadr spokesman told Western journalists earlier Monday that there would be no working with Hakim unless he follows their preferred senior leader, Grand Ayatollah Kazem al Haeri, who is in Iran. Nor would they accept Hakim as Iraq's leader, said the spokesman, Sheikh Admen al Shahmani, because Hakim had fled to Iran in fear.

The Shiite leadership hasn't been a prime focus of U.S. rebuilding efforts, in part because some Pentagon civilian officials thought that their preferred exile leader, Ahmed Chalabi, himself a Shiite, could unite Iraqis behind his Iraqi National Congress. But Chalabi has mustered little support in the country, and another U.S.-backed Shiite leader was murdered shortly after he returned to Iraq from exile in Britain.


(Fan, who reports for the San Jose Mercury News, and Gerlin, who reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer, reported from Baghdad. Nelson reported from Najaf.)


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

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