The retired U.S. general leading the reconstruction effort said Thursday, adding he hoped all ministries would have Iraqi officials appointed as soon as possible.
“I think you’ll begin to see the governmental process start next week, by the end of next week,” retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner said at a news conference in Baghdad on Thursday. “It is very important that people start back to work, especially those in public service.”
Garner said he already had an Iraqi coordinator for every ministry and promised that all government officers will have an appropriate place to work. Many government buildings were badly damaged by U.S. bombing and the widespread looting that occurred after the collapse of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“It will have Iraqi faces on it. It will be governed by the Iraqis,” the 64-year-old Garner said, without elaborating.
Garner’s announcement came after a meeting with dozens of Iraqi bureaucrats and academics examining ways to stabilize and bring democracy to a country currently with no central authority.
The meeting on Thursday also focused on how Baghdad’s residents would choose their new municipal leadership, the Associated Press reported.
Garner said Iraqi officials who return to government positions would be vetted to see how close they were to Saddam’s inner circle.
“Our purpose here in your country is to create an environment for you so that we can begin a process of government that leads to a democratic form in Iraq,” Garner told a group of some 60 Iraqis who attended the meeting.
In recent days, many Shiite Muslims — who comprise roughly 60 percent of Iraq’s population — have protested the U.S. presence and have called for the establishment of an Islamic state, similar to that in neighboring, Shiite-dominated Iran. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites demonstrated against the U.S. presence in the city of Karbala on Wednesday, carrying banners with messages such as “No to America, no to Israel, yes to Islam.”
Garner downplayed the recent anti-American demonstrations, saying they may be the result of an outside power.
“Those [protests] are well organized. I think what you find in that is a lot of Iranian influence,” Garner said. He added that he expected such anti-American sentiment would fade away in the coming days, to be replaced with “more favoritism toward the U.S.”
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on Thursday rejected U.S. allegations that his government interfered in Iraq or sought to promote the political ascendance of Shiite Muslims in Iraq.
Garner and the Iraqis also spent time discussing the potential political leadership for Baghdad and the rest of the war-torn nation.
Addressing the situation in the Iraqi capital, Garner reiterated that Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, the recently returned Iraqi exile who proclaimed himself the new mayor of Baghdad, was not recognized by the U.S. and would be removed if Iraqis rejected him, the British ITV reported on Thursday.
“[Al-Zubaidi] is running Baghdad as much as Saddam Hussein is,” Lt. Col. Alan King, commander of an Army civil affairs battalion, told the AP.
Al-Zubaidi, a Shiite Muslim, on Monday claimed he formed a government and said that Iraq’s new constitution will be based on Islamic law.
When asked whether Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, was a top leadership candidate, Garner responded that Chalabi was not Washington’s top choice to lead Iraq, despite Chalabi’s reputation as a Pentagon favorite.
The group was expected to meet again either Monday or Tuesday to consider forming a new government. A Baghdad lawyer, Abdul-Khaliq al-Shabbut, said the meeting was likely to involve at least 300 Iraqis.
There has been no information about which Iraqi factions or leaders would be invited to the conference.
The first meeting occurred on April 15 near Nassiriya, and concluded with a 13-point communique declaring the new Iraq must be democratic and Saddam’s Baath party must be dissolved.
Garner, director of the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for postwar Iraq, arrived in Baghdad on Monday to oversee an interim administration until the Iraqi people select a government. No timeline has been given for when the handover might occur.