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Last Updated: Monday, 26 May, 2003, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK
UK forces disband Basra council
Iraqis protest in Basra
Basra residents want their city to function normally again
UK forces in control of southern Iraq have disbanded the city council in Basra, headed by a controversial local leader accused by many residents of having close links to Saddam Hussein's regime.

It is to be replaced by two bodies - an interim committee dealing with the technical tasks of reconstruction, and a civic forum of political leaders which will work on setting up a democratic local government.

By setting up two councils, the British say they hope to separate the management of Basra's essential services and utilities from the thorny process of creating a local civilian government.

The interim committee will include the heads of Basra's utilities as well as representatives of the British military and the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the US-led civil administration for Iraq.

The former council was headed by Sheikh Muzahem al-Tamimi, a tribal leader who was also a member of Saddam's Baath Party.

He said he had never been a close associate of Saddam, but many local people rejected this.

"Getting rid of him is the best thing the British did since they came here," said Abdul Razak, a Basra schoolteacher.

Baath officials banned

Mr Tamimi was well-connected in Basra and had a reputation for being able to get things done.

He worked closely with the British, and Jay Garner - former head of the US administration in Iraq - held talks with him during a visit to Basra earlier this month.

But Mr Tamimi's appointment as head of the city council sparked angry demonstrations in Basra last month.

US and British forces trying to restore order in Iraq have had to contend with the emergence of self-proclaimed local leaders in several cities and towns.

The self-declared "mayor" of Baghdad was arrested by US troops last month for allegedly obstructing reconstruction efforts.

The US authorities in Iraq have announced that officials linked to the Baath Party are barred from holding office in post-war Iraq, and have disbanded several organisations linked to the old regime.

But some British officers in Basra say it will be exceptionally difficult to rebuild the country without the help of former party members, simply because almost everybody with the necessary expertise and connections were at least nominal party members under Saddam.

"We have to strike a balance," one said. "We don't want to work with undesirables, but we can't start from a blank slate."


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