Coup of Baghdad City Government?

New York Times

Baghdad Mayor Is Ousted by a Shiite Group and ReplacedBy James Glanz, New York Times   BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 9 – Armed men entered Baghdad’s municipal building during a blinding dust storm on Monday, deposed the city’s mayor and installed a member of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militia.

The deposed mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi, who was not in his offices at the time, recounted the events in a telephone interview on Tuesday and called the move a municipal coup d’état. He added that he had gone into hiding for fear of his life.

“This is the new Iraq,” said Mr. Tamimi, a secular engineer with no party affiliation. “They use force to achieve their goal.”

The group that ousted him insisted that it had the authority to assume control of Iraq’s capital city and that Mr. Tamimi was in no danger. The man the group installed, Hussein al-Tahaan, is a member of the Badr Organization, the armed militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as Sciri.

The militia has been credited with keeping the peace in heavily Shiite areas in southern Iraq but also accused of abuses like forcing women to wear the veils demanded by conservative Shiite religious law.

“If we wanted to do something bad to him, we would have done that,” said Mazen A. Makkia, the elected city council chief who led the ouster on Monday and who had been in a lengthy and unresolved legal feud with Mr. Tamimi.

“We really want to establish the state of law for every citizen, and we did not threaten anyone,” Mr. Makkia said. “This is not a coup.”

Mr. Makkia confirmed that he had entered the building with armed men but said that they were bodyguards for him and several other council members who accompanied him. Witnesses estimated that the number of armed men ranged from 50 to 120. Mr. Makkia is a member of a Shiite political party that swept to victory during the across-the-board Shiite successes during January’s elections.

Mr. Tamimi, the deposed mayor, was appointed by the central government and held ministerial rank. He was originally put in place by L. Paul Bremer III, the top American administrator in the country until an Iraqi government took over in June 2004.

Baghdad is the only city in Iraq that is its own province, and the city council had previously appointed Mr. Tahaan as governor of Baghdad province, with some responsibilities parallel to Mr. Tamimi’s. But the mayor’s office was clearly the more powerful office, a fact that proved to be a painful thorn in the side of Mr. Makkia, who believed that the council, which he controls, should hold sway in Baghdad.

Mr. Makkia provided a phone number for Mr. Tahaan, but the phone did not appear to be turned on. A spokesman for the American Embassy in Baghdad said that he was aware of the developments but that he had no immediate comment.

When asked whether the Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a politician with another Shiite Islamic party, Dawa, was concerned about developments at the municipality, a spokesman, Laith Kubba, said, “My guess is, yes, he is.”

Mr. Kubba said he had not yet had a chance to talk with the prime minister about the issue. But gave clear indications that the prime minister would not stand in the way of the move.

Weeks ago, Mr. Tamimi had offered to resign or retire, saying that the budget he had been given was not adequate. For a city of six million people, the central government had given him a budget of $85 million; he had requested $1 billion.

As of Tuesday, the prime minister still had not formally accepted the offer, Mr. Kubba said. But he said the offer could be used to find a way to formally remove Mr. Tamimi.

“It’s more or less a fait accompli that he’s not going back to office,” Mr. Kubba said. He added that Mr. Tahaan would be considered an interim mayor until the prime minister settled on someone to take the post permanently.

Leaders of the country’s major political parties, meanwhile, resumed a summit meeting to break the deadlock over Iraq’s new constitution, which was delayed by the same sandstorm on Monday.

The deadline for the constitution is in five days and the parties have so far failed to resolve several crucial issues like the role of Islam in the government, the future of the ethnically mixed and oil-rich city of Kirkuk and the scope of self-rule for regions outside Iraqi Kurdistan.

After the meeting, the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, said discussion focused mainly on the issue of autonomy and the distribution of oil revenues. He expressed confidence that the group would complete the constitution on time, but added, “As the English people would say, the devil is in the details.”

Violence also continued around the city. One American soldier was killed and two were wounded when a car bomb exploded as a patrol passed through a crowded square in central Baghdad, the military said. An official at the Interior Ministry said at least three civilians were killed and 54 wounded in the same blast. Mortars landed near a mosque in southern Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding four, the official said.

At least nine security officials were killed in four separate shooting incidents around Baghdad on Tuesday. An American marine was killed by small-arms fire on Monday in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, the military said.

In Washington, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that Iran had become a conduit for weapons smuggled into Iraq and used by insurgents, and he criticized Tehran for not doing more to prevent the smuggling.

“Weapons clearly, unambiguously from Iran have been found in Iraq,” he said at a Pentagon briefing. He added: “It’s a big border. It’s notably unhelpful for the Iranians to allow weapons of those types to cross the border.”

Defense officials have said recently that components and fully manufactured bombs from Iran began appearing about two months ago and that a large shipment was captured last month in northeast Iraq after coming across the border.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s comments were the first confirmation by a senior American official that such smuggling was occurring. Mr. Rumsfeld said it was not clear who in Iran was responsible for the shipments, which some specialists have said could be the work of smugglers or splinter insurgent groups, rather than the government of Iran.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said at the briefing that Iraqi and American forces have made arrests in Haditha, where 20 marines were killed in two ambushes last week, after tips from Iraqis in the area. “The public came forward and said these are the folks,” General Myers said.

Mr. Tamimi, the ousted mayor, said he believed that Shiite political parties had forced the takeover in Baghdad in order to position themselves for the elections once a constitution is agreed upon.

For his part, he said, he had lost the sense of enthusiasm that had brought him back to Iraq after nearly a decade in exile.

“When I left in 1995, every day, it is years for me,” Mr. Tamimi said. “But now when I leave I don’t think I will be sorry. I leave because I cannot live in such conditions.”

Dexter Filkins and Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article, and David S. Cloud from Washington.

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