Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Baghdad Mayor Is Ousted by Badr Brigade

New York Times - 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'├ętat. 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.