Rumsfeld in Gulf region as Iraqis prepare to meet US administrator

BAGHDAD - US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld began a post war Gulf tour amid moves to reorganise US forces in the region as aspiring Iraqi political leaders prepared to meet the top US administrator in Baghdad on Monday.

By (AFP)

Published: Mon 28 Apr 2003, 8:04 PM

Last updated: Wed 1 Apr 2015, 10:04 PM

Rumsfeld arrived in the Gulf on a week-long tour expected to include Iraq. The exact itinerary has been kept secret for security reasons.

The defense secretary visited the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi and then travelled to the US Central Command (Centcom) in Qatar.

General Tommy Franks, head of Centcom, said a “re-arrangement” of troops in the region was likely, but did not say if this meant a troop reduction.

“There is an understanding that since the regime in Iraq has gone, since there will no longer be a need for Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch and so forth in the days and months ahead there will likely be a re-arrangement of the footprint,” Franks told journalists in Abu Dhabi.

About 150,000 US and British troops are in Iraq. Operation Southern Watch and Northern Watch had enforced flight restrictions on Iraqi aircraft following the 1991 Gulf War.

Between 300 and 400 Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum were to meet Jay Garner, the retired US general running postwar Iraq in Baghdad on Monday.

Barbara Bodine, US administrator for central Iraq, said it was a chance to look for “emerging personalities” to lead the people.

US officials said Iraqi experts, many from the former regime, would be in place in the next few days to run the battered capital.

There has been much fury over the absence of basic services and uncertainty over the shape of a future government.

In Madrid, a meeting of exiled Iraqis called for a coalition government of Iraqis instead of a US-dominated administration.

A declaration issued by the meeting stressed the need to “speed up the constitution of an independent transitional coalition government with the participation of Iraqi political forces and cadres.”

“All the decisions must be taken by Iraqis,” said Mohamed Mohamed Ali of the Iraqi National Congress.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the United Nations should have a political as well as a humanitarian function in Iraq.

Asked about the “vital” role desired by the international community for the UN in Iraq, Blair told the Financial Times: “I think it is to everyone’s benefit that the UN does have such a role, so I hope there can be an agreement on that, on the humanitarian, on the reconstruction, but also on the political side too.”

The prime minister added: “It is not in our interests -- America and Britain -- to have a government in Iraq that doesn’t clearly have international legitimacy.”

US-led forces meanwhile made new progress catching former regime officials.

The capture of General Hossam Mohammad Amin, former head of Iraq’s National Monitoring Directorate, brings to 13 the number of Iraqis seized from the US list of the 55 most wanted officials from Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime.

Amin was in charge of liaising with UN weapons inspectors scrutinizing cooperation with UN Security Council resolutions on Iraqi disarmament.

US forces also arrested Mohammad Mohsen Zubeidi, who had proclaimed himself governor of Baghdad. He had “exercised authority he did not have”, Centcom said.

Zubeidi “was detained and then removed from Baghdad to prevent his continued misrepresentation of his authority.”

Zubeidi, 51, declared himself governor of Baghdad days after Saddam was ousted on April 9.

Centcom said the coalition was committed to ensuring the Iraqi people had a legitimate representative government. “Until such time as that government is formed, the coalition is the only legitimate government authority in Iraq.”

Meanwhile, the debate raged on over the former regime’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and links to the al-Qaeda network.

A leading Iraqi scientist who worked in the country’s biological weapons program in the 1980s said he and colleagues lied to UN inspectors about biological and chemical weapons, The New York Times reported.

The stories he gave the inspectors “were all lies,” Nissar Hindawi told the paper.

Iraq “produced huge quantities” of liquid anthrax and botulinum toxin, he said. “There were orders to destroy it,” he said. “They destroyed some -- whether all or not, I can’t say.”

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper of London reported it had found evidence amidst Baghdad wreckage of a direct link between Saddam’s regime and al-Qaeda, the organisation blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The paper said it discovered files in the bombed headquarters of the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence service, showing that an al-Qaeda envoy was invited to Baghdad in 1998. The documents did not mention if a meeting ever took place.

Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi told US television Saddam was still alive and on the verge of capture by coalition forces.

But General Franks said he had no evidence to convince him that Saddam Hussein was alive.

“I’ve seen nothing recently that convinced me that he was alive,” he told US television reporters after meeting Rumsfeld.

Franks said Tareq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister who surrendered last week, was being “cooperative and talkative” during interrogation.

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