PARIS—Prominent Iraqis who despised Saddam Hussein will take up arms against U.S. forces if life under occupation does not quickly improve, a senior U.N. official said in outspoken criticism of Washington's postwar policy in Iraq.
Ghassan Salameh, adviser to the special United Nations representative to Iraq, told a French magazine the United States had bungled its victory since toppling Saddam.
"Many influential Iraqis who initially felt liberated from a despised regime have assured me that they will take up arms if the coalition troops do not arrive at a result. Time is short," Salameh said in an interview published yesterday in the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur.
The comments appeared as a new letter purportedly written by Saddam called on Iraq's powerful Shiite Muslim clergy to call for a jihad — or holy war — against U.S. occupation.
Iraqi Shi'ite clerics stand in front of the entrance to the headquarters of U.S. troops in the town of Baquba, August 13, 2003. Prominent Iraqis who despised Saddam Hussein will take up arms against U.S. forces if life under occupation does not quickly improve, a senior U.N. official said in outspoken criticism of Washington's postwar policy in Iraq. Ghassan Salameh, adviser to the special U.N. representative to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello, told the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur in an interview published Wednesday that the United States had bungled its victory since toppling Saddam. (Faleh Kheiber/Reuters)
"If the hawza (Shiite seminaries) calls for a jihad, this would unify the whole Iraqi people against the occupation," said the letter, which the Arabic satellite channel Al Jazeera said was written by Saddam in answer to questions sent to him.
The authenticity of the handwritten missive could not be immediately established.
In the French interview, Salameh did not spell out which prominent Iraqis had warned of an uprising against the U.S. and British-led coalition occupying the country. The U.N. mission, he said, made a point of meeting senior figures and took credit for pushing the U.S. administrator to give executive powers to the appointees on Iraq's new Governing Council.
He said protests over energy shortages in the southern city of Basra showed Washington's British allies, generally seen as more active in bringing Iraqis into administering their region, also faced difficulties.
Southern Iraq, dominated by the long oppressed Shiite majority, had hitherto been fairly calm. But prominent Shiite clerics have made clear they are impatient to be left alone, at long last, to run their own affairs.
Salameh warned that ordinary people, frustrated by the lack of basic services four months after the fall of Saddam, could rally behind ideological opponents of the occupying forces.
"In reality, the population is very surprised. They don't understand how such a level of efficiency during the war could be followed by such a lack of efficiency in `peace,'" he said.
Salameh accused the U.S. government of promoting an ideological agenda and of making "errors of judgment."
This included a purge of members of the dissolved Baath party, which affected thousands of qualified professionals with little or no ideological attachment to Saddam. These were now being replaced by "protégés of local factions," he said.
The U.S. presence in Iraq is also prompting a rising tide of Muslim militants to slip into the country to fight the foreign occupier, some Iraqi officials warn, likening it to the way the Russian invasion of Afghanistan stirred an earlier generation.
"Iraq is the nexus where many issues are coming together — Islam versus democracy, the West versus the axis of evil, Arab nationalism versus some different types of political culture," Barham Saleh, prime minister of a Kurdish-controlled part of northern Iraq, told the New York Times. "If the Americans succeed here, this will be a monumental blow to everything the terrorists stand for."
In violence yesterday, U.S. soldiers shot into a crowd of demonstrators in a Baghdad slum, killing a civilian and wounding four after a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at them, the military said. North of Baghdad, guerrillas killed two U.S. troops.
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