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U.S. Picked Iraq Health Minister Resigns

U.S. Picked Iraq Health Minister Resigns

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The temporary Iraqi Health Ministry chief hand-picked by the United States resigned just 10 days into the job, after widespread protests for his close ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, coalition radio announced Tuesday.

Dr. Ali Shenan al-Janabi had refused to renounce the party, the U.S.-controlled Voice of New Iraq radio station said, quoting the ministry.

The May 3 appointment of Al-Janabi -- an optometrist who was the ministry's No. 3 man under Saddam -- triggered protests by hundreds of doctors and pharmacists who marched last week to demand his removal.

Stephen Browning, senior adviser to the Health Ministry from the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, had earlier praised al-Janabi, describing him as a "Baath party member who is not associated with criminal activities."

But the Health Ministry, in a statement read Tuesday, said Browning had accepted al-Janabi's resignation "due to his refusal to condemn the Baath Party." It did not elaborate.

"Dr. Ali will be assigned as a specialist physician at Ibn al-Haitham Hospital," a radio announcer said. "Mr. Browning added that Dr. Ali is a respected gentleman and that he appreciates what he offered the transitional government."

The newly arrived American civilian administrator for Iraq, meanwhile, faced daunting tasks during his first full day in Baghdad on Tuesday: restoring security, power, clean water and other services to an Iraqi capital demanding them back.

L. Paul Bremer, who arrived in the U.S.-occupied country Monday, made his first stop in the southern city of Basra, where he conferred with British officials in charge of establishing order. He then flew to Baghdad, where his reconstruction agency is headquartered.

Bremer will become the boss of the current U.S. administrator, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who has faced severe criticism in Iraq and ridicule in foreign capitals for his slowness in establishing public order, preventing looting and restoring utilities and other basic government services throughout the country.

Bremer had been scheduled to hold his first news conference Tuesday. It was announced prominently to journalists, then canceled via e-mail three hours before it was set to begin.

The arrival of Bremer coincided with a wide-ranging shake-up in the U.S. administration in Iraq formed after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Bremer said former U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who was coordinator for Baghdad and the rest of central Iraq, was being reassigned back to Washington by the State Department "for their own reasons."

Other U.S. officials are also said to be slated for replacement.

In the mainly Shiite city of Najaf, a top Muslim cleric appeared to backtrack on statements calling for "a modern Islamic regime" that he made Saturday on his return from 23 years in exile in neighboring Iran.

"Neither an Islamic government nor a secular administration will work in Iraq but a democratic state that respects Islam as the religion of a majority of the population," Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim told reporters.

The toned-down comments could have been be intended to allay U.S. fears that al-Hakim, who commands a wide following among Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims, was advocating an Iranian-style clerical regime.

Top administration officials in Washington have stressed that the United States will not allow a fundamentalist regime to gain power in Iraq.

"Iraq needs a civil society and a popularly elected government that represents all ethnic, racial and religious groups," said al-Hakim, who fled to Iran in 1980 after being imprisoned and tortured by Saddam's security forces.

In the north, soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division found a second trailer that experts believe was a mobile biological weapons laboratory, the division's commander said Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. David Petraeus said troops found the trailer Friday at al-Kindi, the largest missile research facility in Iraq. He said the trailer is "close to identical" to another found last month in the same area that U.S. officials believe was a mobile germ weapons workshop.

President Bush said he invaded Iraq to eliminate its biological and chemical weapons programs. So far, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in the country, despite visits to more than 100 suspect sites by U.S. investigators.

Meanwhile, the acting coach of Iraq's national soccer team announced its players will be reassembled and begin training this week for upcoming international competition.

"We will train four times a week to be ready for the matches," Adnan Hamad said. "Iraq will be fully prepared for the Olympic qualifiers." He urged all members of the former national team, which disintegrated in the run-up to the war, to report to Baghdad's al-Karkh stadium.

The end of the war has been welcomed by the world soccer community, which says it wants to get the soccer-mad country reintegrated into international competitions as soon as possible. But all contact with the Iraq Football Association and FIFA, the sport's ruling body, has been broken since before the start of the conflict.

Iraq's soccer organization had been run by Saddam's eldest son, Odai. There have been reports that Odai, who also oversaw Iraq's Olympic Committee, tortured players who failed to perform to his standards.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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