Nicholas Pelham / Financial Times – 2004-04-09 19:10:37
BAGHDAD (April 8 2004) — Nouri Badran, Iraq’s interim interior minister, resigned on Thursday in the latest blow to the US-appointed transitional administration, while the kidnapping of three Japanese citizens increased the pressures facing the occupying coalition
Mr Badran, a Shia who was responsible for the country’s 50,000 strong police force, said he was resigning because he his performance had been criticized by Paul Bremer, the top US official in Iraq, who had also said that the defense minister and interior minister should not both be Shia Muslims.
“I heard reports that Ambassador Bremer was unhappy with my performance, so I went to see him and asked if it was true,” Mr Badran told a surprised news conference. “He said that the problem was that the interior and the defense ministers could not both be Shia… So from now I am resigning my position and I hope that by my decision, balance will be restored to the ministries in Iraq,” he added.
However, coalition officials cast doubt on this version of events. Another Shia member of the governing adminstration, Haider Abbadi, linked the move to growing disquiet over the handling of the twin insurgency of both Sunni and Shia groups now confronting US-led forces.
“There will be many resignations,” said Mr Abbadi, interim minister of communications and a member of the al-Dawa party. “It’s as if the US army is out of control,” he said. “Their massive use of force is bringing the country to the precipice. Iraqis can no longer afford to been seen siding with the Americans.”
Iraq’s governing council is due to meet in emergency session on Friday.
Paul Bremer, the chief US official in Iraq, said he regretted Mr Badran’s decision to stand down. “In view of the importance of this position, we anticipate filling it promptly following consultations with Iraqi leaders. We will ensure that Iraq has a very strong and dedicated security team,” Mr Bremer said in a joint statement with Masoud Barzani, head of the governing council.
US forces were on Thursday still engaged in battling rebels in Falluja, a Sunni stronghold to the south west of Baghdad. The battle for the town that began on Monday has resulted in heavy casualties on the Iraqi side.
More than 280 Iraqis have been killed and 400 wounded in the US crackdown, Taher al-Issawi, director of Falluja’s hospital said. He added that the toll was probably higher: “We also know of dead and wounded in various places buried under rubble, but we cannot reach them,” he told the Associated Press news agency.
Meanwhile, General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition troops in Iraq, said on Thursday that the southern town of Kut, captured by the Mahdi army loyal to the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr would be retaken “imminently”.
The Mahdi militias also gained control of the southern cities of Kufa and Najaf on Wednesday and Mr al-Sadr’s supporters this week took over Shia Islam’s holiest shrine in the city of Najaf, ousting the followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s paramount Shia cleric.
Gen Sanchez continued the US’s tough rhetoric against Mr al-Sadr, pledging that that the coalition would continue its offensive until the Sadr militia was “no longer a threat. We will not let a small group of criminals and thugs control the destiny of this country,” he pledged.
But he warned Shia pilgrims to be on their guard as the arbaeen religious festivals get underway. Terrorists would see the annual festival as an opportunity to strike at the Shia community again, said Gen Sanchez.
As US officials sought to reassure the world that the situation in Iraq was not spiraling out of control, Robin Cook, former UK foreign secretary, urged coalition forces to stop “acting like warriors” and start concentrating on restoring peaceful conditions in Iraq.
Mr Cook, who quit as Leader of the Commons in protest at the Iraq war, told the BBC’s Today program on Thursday that US forces were adopting the wrong strategy in their efforts to pacify the country.
“They have got to recognize that the course on which they are set is not working. There is no point in saying we are going to stay the course if we are on the wrong course,” Mr Cook said.
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