Monday 12 May 2003

Baghdad Rots After A Month Of US 'Reconstruction'

Interesting that BBC News24 talks about the changes in US officials but not the fact that Baghdad is rapidly descending into the toilet, there's drugs back on the streets in epidemic proportions (thanks to those lovely people in the CIA of course) and the Americans seem to have cooked up the perfect recipe for Fundamentalist Soup. It seems Uncle Sam is really good at selling guns to people and then blowing them up afterwards, but they don't seem able to do much more than that... Didn't those arseholes bleat on about how they wanted to help the Iraqi people? If that's what they call help, who needs World War IV?!?

It was just another day in the process of "getting Baghdad back to normal". Well, on this most normal of days when news was supposed to be slow, the US-appointed Health Minister finally resigned at the time of a steadily mounting public health crisis after a week of relentless pressure from doctors disgusted at his prominent past in the Saddam Hussein regime.

A senior State Department official turned up at the old Iraqi Police Academy to sack in person the self-appointed police chief for the whole of Iraq, with whom US forces had ö initially ö amicably worked. A huge fire in the Baghdad central telephone exchange went untended for most of the day despite ö admittedly unconfirmed ö reports that a potential survivor was still in the building. Nobody is yet collecting the rubbish that is still rotting in the city after a month. And Barbara Bodine, the very US official directly charged with "getting Baghdad to normal", has been peremptorily recalled to Washington.

It's hardly surprising that the grandly named and even more grandly sited (in the biggest of all Saddam Hussein's palaces in the city) US-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance is undergoing a rapid restructuring in preparation for the imminent arrival here of its new boss, the former head of US counter-terrorism, Paul Bremer. For if this really was a normal day in the Iraqi capital, Mr Bremer, who will report directly to the US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rather than to the generals commanding the occupying forces, is going to have his work cut out.

Each of yesterday's episodes in its own way reflects the crisis of post-war Baghdad. Having spent three days trying in vain to contact Hamid Rahman, the former general with a senior position in the pre-war Ministry of Interior who had been identified as the potential Iraqi to run policing through the country, Bob Gifford, a State Department policing expert who did the same job in Afghanistan, turned up at the joint US military-police headquarters in person to confront Mr Rahman when he turned up around midday. Mr Gifford told him bluntly: "There is no control. We are not going to announce this appointment. I want you to go home until we contact you." Asked about this scene, witnessed by chance by the Independent, an ORHA official conceded that Mr Rahman was "not the right man for the job". His background as a senior functionary of the Baathist regime coupled with what one US Military Police officer called his tendency to run his "own mafia, taking big decisions we were paying for without consulting us" appears to be among the reasons for the sacking.

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