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(AP) Some Iraqi government operations will resume by late next week, the American overseeing postwar reconstruction said Thursday. He also contended that 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."
Asked if officials who served the ousted regime could work in the interim government, Garner replied, "We will identify anyone who was a crony of Saddam Hussein or a violator of human rights and he will be disqualified. Beyond that I don't think there will be disqualifications."
Garner spoke after meeting with about 60 Iraqi 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.
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 -- a Shiite Muslim state -- in hopes of deterring any encouragement of anti-American militancy among Iraq's Shiite majority.
Garner said 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," he said.
In the southern Iraq city of Kut, where a Shiite cleric has claimed control, unidentified assailants fired on a U.S. Marine command post in two drive-by shootings early Thursday, 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.
Also Thursday, the United Nations said environmental dangers to the Iraqi people are a major threat and need an immediate assessment and cleanup plan. A study concluded that war, sanctions and Saddam's mismanagement have left threats from pollution, water and sanitation needs, and uranium from coalition ordnance.
Four key 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 Gen. Zuhayr Talib Abd al-Sattar al-Naqib, the former military intelligence chief, and Muhammad Mahdi al-Salih, the former trade minister, and Muzahim Sa'b Hassan al-Tikriti, who headed Iraq's air defenses and reportedly helped train the Fedayeen Saddam militia. That brings 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 spies, said U.S. Central Command spokesman Jim Wilkinson.
Among the top regime officials believed by U.S. and British forces to have been killed is Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of poison gas against Iraq's Kurds. Knight Ridder Newspapers reported Thursday that Baghdad hospital workers saw al-Majid alive a day or two after the airstrike that purportedly killed him in the southern city of Basra.
A nurse and a doctor at Baghdad Nursing Hospital said al-Majid was at the hospital April 6 or 7 while another official and a bodyguard in his entourage were treated for injuries, according to the Knight Ridder report. The doctor was quoted as saying al-Majid's group left the hospital before Baghdad fell to American forces.
In England, U.S. B-52 bombers that have been flying Iraq sorties are beginning to head home. A half-dozen have already left the Royal Air Force's Fairford base in Gloucestershire, and all 14 bombers will be gone within days, officials said.
U.S. officials denied claims by a recently returned exile, Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, that he has American military support for his quest to serve as Baghdad's self-proclaimed, unelected mayor.
Al-Zubaidi "is running Baghdad as much as Saddam Hussein is," said Lt. Col. Alan King, commander of an Army civil affairs battalion in the capital.
King said he had seen reports that al-Zubaidi was issuing weapons and uniforms to followers.
"Anyone in uniform working with al-Zubaidi will be arrested as a combatant," King said. "The only people in Baghdad allowed to wear a uniform ... is who we authorize."
Efforts to restore electricity in Baghdad after a three-week outage proceeded steadily. The city is now getting about one-fourth of its usual power supply, although brownouts continue. Engineers said they need parts to repair transformers and power lines damaged in the war, and that spares had been stolen during looting after the city fell.
According to Garner's office, 175,000 barrels a day of oil is now flowing in southern Iraq, to a refinery and power plants in Basra. In the next day or two, 60,000 barrels a day are expected to begin flowing in the north, as well as natural gas, which drives electric turbines for Baghdad.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the search for weapons of mass destruction could be handled by a country that wasn't part of the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq. He said the United Nations wasn't the only body capable of providing independent verification.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the U.S.-led coalition Thursday to respect international law as the "occupying power" in Iraq, drawing immediate complaints from U.S. officials who resist the label "occupier."
"I hope the coalition will set an example by making clear that they intend to act strictly within the rules" governing the occupation of conquered nations, Annan told the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
U.S. officials said in Geneva they had not yet established whether the coalition is the occupying power under international law but stressed that coalition forces were abiding by international conventions.
"We've made it clear from day one of this conflict through our actions," said U.S. envoy Kevin Moley. "We find it -- at best -- odd that the secretary-general chose to bring this to our attention."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)