The U.S. administrator in Iraq says his office will begin recruiting soldiers for a new Iraqi army by the end of the month. The administrator spoke at a news conference in Baghdad, as former Iraqi soldiers demonstrated outside.
For administrator Paul Bremer, the day started off with thousands of out-of-work Iraqi soldiers demonstrating in front of his office in downtown Baghdad.
The former soldiers, who served under Saddam Hussein, were demanding back pay and jobs. Some threatened acts of terror against American soldiers in Iraq if their demands are not met.
Mr. Bremer officially disbanded the Iraqi army last week.
At his news conference, Mr. Bremer announced he would soon begin recruiting soldiers for what he called a New Iraqi Corps, and some of the former soldiers might be able to join. But he said the United States will not provide benefits to those who threaten to attack U.S. forces.
"We are not going to be blackmailed into producing programs because of threats of terrorism. People who are prepared to commit violence against the coalition or its officers, whether they be civilian or military, will be dealt with the full force of the law. On the other hand, we do recognize that our policy has hurt in de-mobilizing enlisted men," Mr. Bremer said.
Mr. Bremer estimated it would be five-to-six weeks before an interim Iraqi administration would be formed. He said that administration would supervise the drafting of a new Iraqi constitution, and would organize elections.
Meanwhile the new U.N. representative to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, arrived in Baghdad, saying the interim transitional Iraqi administration should be put in place as quickly as possible. The sooner the Iraqi people govern themselves, he said, the better.
Mr. Vieira de Mello is on a four-month assignment for the United Nations to help coordinate a wide variety of projects, including reconstruction, economic development, and restoring the police force and the justice system. He has said law and order in Iraq is a top priority. Mr. Vieira de Mello is expected to meet with coalition officials Tuesday, including Mr. Bremer. While Mr. Bremer said he welcomes the U.N. envoy's arrival, Mr. de Mello has not been given independent authority to take action.
At the news conference, Mr. Bremer said he is looking into several ways to spur job growth in Iraq, and announced a $70 million program for local communities to use for neighborhood clean-up and to build new schools.
He said the infrastructure of Iraq is steadily improving, noting that the electricity supply in Baghdad has been doubled in the past week, there are more police patrols, lines for gasoline are shorter, and a nationwide U.N. food distribution program has resumed.
Mr. Bremer also discussed the renewed controversy over whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the war. He said a special team of 1,300 weapons inspectors will examine the issue in Iraq, beginning June seventh.
In the meantime, sporadic attacks against U.S. soldiers have continued. On Sunday there was an attack in the Baghdad neighborhood of Hadiliya, considered a Baath party stronghold prior to the war. Grenades were tossed at an armored vehicle injuring two U.S. soldiers. Two Iraqis were killed in subsequent gunfire.
Specialist Matt Moser of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division was standing guard where the attack had taken place the day before. He said despite the attacks, he believes Iraqi citizens are glad coalition forces are there.
"They like us. The general population here likes us. I can say that from being out here. It is just one or two guys, like everywhere else I guess, that do not like us," Mr. Moser said.
Residents in the area said there are still Baath party members in the neighborhood who are planning more attacks against American soldiers.