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In Mosul, Iraqis select an interim mayor

MOSUL, Iraq—Iraqis held the first democratic election in postwar Iraq on Monday, choosing a former Iraqi general whose brother and cousin were executed by Saddam Hussein's regime to become the interim mayor of the ethnically torn northern city of Mosul.

The Mosul election came as the U.S. official in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq, Jay Garner, said a multi-ethnic interim leadership group of about nine people should be selected by Iraqis by the middle of May.

Garner, speaking to reporters in Baghdad, said the leadership group might include Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party; Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress; Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; Ayad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord; and Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a senior official in the Iran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

In Mosul, a group of 250 leading citizens from the city's Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen and Christian populations selected a 24-member city council. The council then voted in a secret ballot to elect Ghanim al Basso mayor.

Some delegates and others said al Basso had stayed too close to Saddam's regime.

Al Basso said he had been followed by the secret police for several years. He was forcibly retired in 1993 after his brother's arrest.

Retired Gen. Isam Mahmoud said forcible retirement was standard practice for officers whose family members got into political trouble with the regime. "He was not in opposition," Mahmoud said. "He did not do anything against the regime."

Mahmoud, a former military adviser to Saddam who was jailed for plotting a coup in 2000, declined to participate in the convention because he said it was packed with people who acquiesced with Saddam's regime. He said there were no former political prisoners among the new city officials.

U.S. officials and leaders of tribes and ethnic groups in Mosul selected the 250-member delegation that elected the council. Mosul, with 1.8 million people, is Iraq's third-largest city.

The 101st Airborne Division forces occupying Mosul organized Monday's convention. Aspiring Iraqi politicians worked the crowd, and American troops guarded it.

In an opening ceremony, Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commanding officer of the 101st Airborne, told delegates that "by being here today, you are part of the birth of the democratic process in Iraq."

Petraeus said membership in the 250-person delegation that elected the city council was based on leadership experience, education and membership in "a great family of Mosul"—meaning that each delegate had to have a grandfather who was born in the city.

American officials checked whether potential delegates had been involved with Saddam's regime. Petraeus said membership in the Baath Party alone did not disqualify them unless they acted "contrary to the rights of the people of Iraq."

It was agreed in advance that the mayor would come from Mosul's Arab majority, while a Kurd would hold the deputy mayor position and a Christian and a Turkmen would each serve as assistant deputy mayor.

There were no women among the delegates. Petraeus said the subject "was raised and discussed" with local leaders. "You're not going to change the culture overnight," he said.

But William Warder, a leader of the city's Assyrian Christians, said he was surprised by the lack of women. "We have strong and well-educated women here," he said.

In the convention's first round, the delegates were separated into ethnic and geographic caucuses to select members of the council. Three delegates marched out to protest the ethnic divisions in the convention. American officials said they were Islamists who were opposed to representative government.

The council elected by the delegation has three Kurds, three Christians, a Turkmen and members from various Arab tribes inside and outside Mosul.

It remained unclear exactly what powers the interim officials would have. Petraeus said they would be able to direct the 3,000 local police who have returned to work. But the police work mainly in joint patrols with American forces, and most other potential mayoral decisions would have to be made in conjunction with American officials.

Al Basso, who defeated a leading doctor and a former police official, was strongly supported by Meshaan al Jabouri of the Iraqi Homeland Party. A onetime exile, al Jabouri declared himself in charge of Mosul when Iraqi forces surrendered last month. Many blame him for the provoking the deadly riots that accompanied the Iraqi collapse in the city.

Although al Jabouri was not a delegate, did not run for office and said he had no ambition for elective office, he seemed to be everywhere on Monday, shaking hands with delegates and chatting with American officials.

After the convention, he invited reporters and delegates to a dinner with the new mayor at his residence, a Mosul mansion once occupied by Ali Hasan al Majid, who ordered chemical attacks that killed thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988.

"It's a good day, a historic day," said the Rev. Louis Sako, a Catholic priest elected to the council. "Everything has happened peacefully. Now we'll go ahead with this democracy and maintain an open mind."

Also Monday, military officials also announced the detention of Huda Salih Ammash, a top biological weapons scientist who is No. 53 on the list of 55 most-wanted Iraqi officials. No details were given of her detention, which took place on Sunday. Officials say she was thought to have played a key role in rebuilding Iraq's bioweapons capability after the 1991 Gulf War.

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

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