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Sabotage hinders efforts at reconstruction in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The top American administrator in Iraq said Wednesday that efforts at reconstruction were being set back by a campaign of sabotage.

L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said most of Baghdad had been without electricity or water for some two days because a central power line from the northern town of Baiji was destroyed.

It's almost certain that "the saboteurs are rogue Baathist elements" loyal to former leader Saddam Hussein, Bremer said. He didn't give any details of what, exactly, happened to the line.

He also didn't say whether looters, rather than insurgents, might have been responsible. Much of the country's physical infrastructure—including some wiring—can be sold as is, or as scrap material. After the war, looters were seen carrying veritable hardware stores of generators, wires and pipes through Baghdad.

A spokesman at the central offices for the U.S. Army's media operations said he could give no further explanation.

Bremer gave no date for when all the lights will come back on in Baghdad, only an assurance that coalition officials are working hard to fix the Baiji line.

There's no bigger subject these days than the lack of electricity in Baghdad, where temperatures flirt around the 120-degree mark. Because the water-treatment plant is on the electrical grid, that too has been affected, and some families have resorted to drinking from the polluted Tigris River.

Many residents are getting angrier and angrier.

"If you want security for Americans in Iraq, you must make things better for Iraqis," said Hussein Hamzwad, who runs a printing shop.

The price for a quarter-block of ice has tripled from 500 Iraqi dinar (about 38 cents) to 1,500 during the past week.

"Hot, hot, hot. I can't sleep. I can't eat. It's making me sick," said Kareema Kardom, 63, who walks more than a mile and a half from her home to work as a house cleaner, earning 1,500 dinar a day. "We don't need anything from the Americans but water and electricity."

Kardom had been sleeping on the roof of her home until this week, hoping for night breezes. She stopped after a falling bullet grazed her left thigh.

Coalition officials say maintaining utility service in Baghdad, and the country as a whole, is difficult because it's made up of a hodgepodge of equipment of different ages from a wide range of countries. Before the war, Bremer said, Iraq generated only about 65 percent of the power it really needed, with the capital city sucking a lot of electricity away from outlying provinces.

Correcting the situation, Bremer said, will take months, if not years, and hundreds of millions of dollars.

The continuing shortages of basic services in Baghdad worsen an already tense situation, in which one U.S. soldier was shot by a sniper this month and another was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in front of a propane gas line. There are about 1,200 military and local police patrols in Baghdad every 24 hours, a 400 percent increase from a month ago, according to the Coalition Provisional Authority.

The town where the power line originates, Baiji, is near the city of Tikrit, one of the hot spots of recent searches for Saddam. It's also near the northern tip of the so-called "Sunni Triangle," a stretch that American officials say harbors supporters of Saddam's Baath Party who have been having semi-regular gun battles with U.S. troops.

Such people, Bremer said, "do not share our vision" for the future of Iraq.

Many Iraqis, though, say the coalition doesn't share their vision for the future of Iraq, which includes an immediate transition to Iraqi self-rule. Such Iraqis say that disconnect, not a Baathist uprising, is the reason for anti-American violence.


Knight Ridder correspondent Natalie Pompilio in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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

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