U.S. uprooting remnants of Saddam's party
BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraq's U.S. administrators will "aggressively move" to identify and remove former officials of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from office and are working to restore security in Baghdad, the civilian authority's new chief said Thursday.
"Shortly, I will issue an order on measures to extirpate Baathists and Baathism from Iraq forever," L. Paul Bremer told reporters in Baghdad. "We have and will aggressively move to seek to identify these people and remove them from office."
But Bremer, who assumed office Monday, said that would be difficult while U.S. officials are trying to restore services such as power, water and health care.
"In some cases, we have found, people who have offered to work with us have turned out to be members of the Baath Party," he said. "Those people have been put out of office when we found that out."
Bremer, a former State Department counterterrorism official, came to Iraq as part of a wide-ranging reorganization of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
He was placed in charge of the effort over the previous administrator, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.
U.S. troops are cracking down on looting in the Iraqi capital and have arrested about 300 criminals released from Iraqi prisons before the U.S.-led campaign began in March, Bremer said.
Though "a serious law and order problem" remains in Baghdad, Bremer said news accounts have left a mistaken impression that the city is practically lawless.
"This is not a country in anarchy," he said. "People are going about their business. They are going about their lives."
He said he will meet with a group of Iraqi leaders Friday to jump-start the process of establishing an Iraqi provisional government.
"I expect we will have a good open discussion on that tomorrow," Bremer said.
Garner was criticized for not traveling immediately to Baghdad as the war effort was winding down and civilian needs were growing, and for not doing enough to restore law and order in the capital.
But Bremer praised Garner Monday, saying he did "an astoundingly good job under difficult circumstances."
"I do not believe you should read anything in particular into my arrival except that it was always foreseen that there would be a civilian administrator here, and here I am," he said.
Garner is expected to stay in Iraq for several weeks before returning to Washington. Three other top officials of the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance have been removed as well.
The Bush administration denied any shakeup has occurred and said Bremer's appointment had been planned all along.