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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Locals Take 'Show Me' Stance

Turning the power on is of greater concern than who's in power, some Baghdad residents say.

June 02, 2004|Monte Morin and Said Rifai | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — As U.S. officials hailed appointments to an interim Iraqi government as a "great list" Tuesday, a small sampling of Baghdad residents found little interest in the pedigrees and parties of the new leaders and Cabinet. What interested them most, they said, was bringing an end to the nation's violence, crime, power shortages and joblessness.

Sitting in a gas line that stretched for blocks in the blistering heat, cabdriver Hameed Shammari said he knew little about Iraq's new president, Ghazi Ajil Yawer, and therefore found little cause for celebration.

"Frankly speaking, we know nothing about him, other than his family and tribe's names," Shammari said. "The Iraqis were clapping hands for Saddam for the last 30 years, just hoping that he might bring them prosperity....

"Nothing has changed. They are going to keep hoping and hoping. They are desperate. They really want somebody to improve their conditions."

The new government, which will lead Iraq until elections next year, also includes a prime minister, Iyad Allawi, who will have greater day-to-day authority than Yawer; two vice presidents and 32 Cabinet members.

As Iraqis braced for a feared onslaught of terrorist bombings ahead of the planned June 30 hand-over of sovereignty to the interim government, the Baghdad residents interviewed said they hoped for a determined leader with a strong hand.

"I personally do not care about who would be chosen, but rather about what kind of person he is and how much he will bring to the Iraqi people," said Esam Mohammed, a hospital pharmacist. "We now want deeds, not promises. The Iraqis have suffered a lot."

Some Iraqis who were familiar with members of the Governing Council -- the body from which many interim government officials were drawn -- said the officials knew little of the suffering of average citizens.

"The GC are all freaks," said Maan Dawood Akram, an unemployed teacher who was exchanging money at a roadside kiosk in the Harithiya district -- where a car bomb killed four people and injured about 20 bystanders Monday.

"Most of them don't even have Iraqi citizenship. They spent the past couple of decades in Europe and the U.S., drinking alcohol, and now they come here and want to rule," Akram said. "Did they suffer like the rest of us? No. The only ones who really deserve to be rulers are those who have suffered under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein."

The owner of the cash-exchange kiosk agreed.

"We cannot accept these people who have been appointed to lead us. We don't have any idea where they come from and what their intentions are," said Mohammed Jaafar Kareem. "We want people who are familiar with us.

"What is the difference between now and then, when Saddam was president?" he asked. "We still don't have electricity, water. What's even worse is that the security situation has deteriorated and is going from bad to worse."

There were those, however, who said that some members of the temporary government had the best interests of Iraqis in mind. What they objected to was the large representation of political parties.

"My personal opinion is that all these parties have to be disbanded," said Basil Daghistani, an employee of Iraq's Power Ministry. "All of them have blood on their hands, without any exception."

Suhail Ahmed of The Times' Baghdad Bureau contributed to this report.

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