Some Iraqi ministries soon to reopen

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 24, 2003

Some Iraqi government operations will resume by late next week, the American overseeing postwar reconstruction said today. He also contended that neighboring Iran was to some degree behind recent anti-American demonstrations in Iraq.

Retired Gen. Jay Garner, the reconstruction chief, told a news conference in Baghdad that some Iraqi government ministries were on the verge of reopening. Initially, experts from the United States and other countries will work jointly with Iraqis.

''When Iraqis themselves are ready to accept the management, we will turn it over to them,'' Garner said. ''It is very important that people start back to work, especially those in public service.''

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Garner spoke to reporters after meeting with about 60 technocrats and academics. On his agenda were law and order initiatives, and the question of how people in Baghdad would prefer to choose new municipal leadership to fill the vacuum created by the ouster of Saddam's regime.

Along Iraq's border with Iran, U.S. Marines have begun patrols designed to apprehend fleeing pro-Saddam officials, help Iraqi exiles who are returning home, and block the entry of potential troublemakers. U.S. officials say they are monitoring Iran in hopes of deterring any encouragement of anti-American militancy among Iraq's Shiite majority.

Garner said that recent demonstrations protesting the U.S. presence in Iraq have been influenced by Iran but predicted they will soon subside.

''Those are well organized. I think what you find in that is a lot of Iranian influence,'' Garner said.

In the southern Iraq city of Kut, where a Shiite cleric has claimed control, unknown assailants fired on a U.S. Marine command post in two drive-by shootings early today, an officer said.

No one was injured in the incidents, said Lt. Col. Doug Fairfield, operations officer at the Kut command post. At least 15 bullet holes were found in the building.

Four important officials from Saddam's regime were taken into custody Wednesday by U.S. forces, including three on the Americans' most wanted-list.

The detentions of Muzahim Sa'b Hassan al-Tikriti, who headed Iraq's air defenses, Gen. Zuhayr Talib Abd al-Sattar al-Naqib, the former military intelligence chief, and Muhammad Mahdi al-Salih, the former trade minister, bring to 14 the number of ex-officials on the 55-name wanted list who are in custody or believed killed.

A fourth Iraqi captured Wednesday is not on the list but will be of keen interest to U.S. investigators - Salim Said Khalaf al-Jumaylia, former director of American operations for Iraq's intelligence agency. He is suspected of having knowledge of Iraqi intelligence activities in the United States, including names of people spying for Iraq, said U.S. Central Command spokesman Jim Wilkinson.

Al-Tikriti reportedly helped train the Fedayeen Saddam militia, which have been accused by U.S. officials of committing war crimes including using civilians as human shields. Pentagon officials said it was too early to determine whether any of the captured officials would be tried for war crimes.