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Iraq struggles to get international toehold; U.S. soldier slain

SHUNEH, Jordan—The top U.S. administrator in Iraq warned Sunday that conditions in Iraq may get worse before they get better, as new attacks killed another U.S. soldier and set ablaze an oil pipeline outside Baghdad.

L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, told Arab leaders that more Iraqis will lose their jobs, government subsidies will be cut and agency budgets will be slashed to make Iraq ready for competitive markets.

The lack of paychecks and work could breed continued unrest in the short-term, Bremer said, but the changes are necessary to gut the corrupt former Baathist government and rebuild Iraq with a free-market economy.

"A new Iraq will be incomplete without economic recovery," Bremer told a gathering of more than 1,000 political and business leaders at the World Economic Forum, his first face-to-face meeting with Mideast leaders since taking the helm in Iraq last month.

"For the last 14 years, I've been a businessman," he said. "I believe we will succeed in turning Iraq's dead-end (economy) into a productive system," he said.

With the Iraq reconstruction effort appearing to bog down, two leading members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sunday said President Bush must do a better job of explaining the costs and challenges to the American people.

While the American people will support the effort, "they need to know the long-term investment here. And that means in resources and in lives and in presidential leadership," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. on ABC-TV's "This Week" program.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said tens of thousands of U.S. troops would remain in Iraq for an extended period. "It's time the president leveled with the American people because no foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people," Biden said.

A U.S. soldier was killed and another injured Sunday in a grenade attack on a U.S. military convoy at Khan Azad, about 12 miles south of Baghdad.

It was the latest in a series of attacks on U.S. troops that have left 19 soldiers dead from hostile fire since May 1, when Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over.

There was some good news on the economic front Sunday, as Iraq resumed oil exports for the first time since the U.S.-led war against former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein began on March 20. The Iraqi oil, stored in Turkey, was loaded aboard a Turkish tanker at the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

But even that modest progress was marred by the pipeline explosion, apparently due to sabotage, west of Baghdad. The explosion, which caused a huge fire, could affect a major oil refinery outside the Iraqi capital.

U.S. officials say loose-knit groups opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq have targeted the country's decrepit oil and natural gas infrastructure, vital to the country's economy, in order to undercut the American reconstruction effort.

At the meeting in Jordan, Arab leaders responded to Bremer by saying no economic progress can be made as long as Iraqis aren't free to run their own country.

Arab countries have voiced increasing concern in recent weeks over U.S. plans to take as much as a year to create an independent Iraqi government.

"We want to see an Iraqi government," said Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa, audibly raising his voice. "Call it provisional, call it interim. We want to deal with an Iraqi government."

The U.N. Special Representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, added that the United Nations believes it cannot begin aiding Iraqi economic and political reform until an Iraqi government has been created.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Warren P. Strobel contributed to this report from Washington.)


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