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---------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- May 11, 2003 In One Major City, Power Goes to an Iraqi With a Past By SABRINA TAVERNISE OSUL, Iraq, May 10 - Mishan al-Jaburi is a very busy man. His living room - a lofty space where boys skitter with trays of tea - is full of sheiks, tribal leaders and armed guards in fatigues. They come to him for answers. "So many guests," he said on a recent afternoon. "I tell them we have a new governor, but they are still all coming to me." Mr. Jaburi is a controversial figure. His critics accuse him of having been a business partner of Saddam Hussein's son Uday, something he vigorously denies. What is beyond dispute is that he was the main local power broker behind Iraq's first postwar election, a vote among tribal leaders last Monday to choose a local government. In a week of meetings, Mr. Jaburi, a leader from the Iraqi National Congress, and the American commander in the area brought together 240 elders and tribal leaders. Today, American military and civilian affairs officers handed over the government to the Iraqi Citizen Council chosen in the Monday election. American Army officers say they want to hand over as many duties to the Iraqis as soon as possible. "I am the leader of the city," said Mr. Jaburi in an interview in his new residence, a house of angular modern design that just a month ago belonged to the infamous Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in gassing Iraqi Kurds in 1988. "All the power is in my hands. I told the Americans to hold elections." As American authorities in Iraq get down to the business of building local governments, they are faced with the task of finding leaders. Mr. Jaburi and a small coterie of men have assumed that role in this city, Iraq's third largest. The task is not easy. Mr. Hussein's authoritarian government discouraged leadership and initiative. Even recent history in the provinces is one of control by complex tribal systems rather than formal laws. Elections have been few and far between. Those with recent experience in public administration were members of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party. "Iraq was a big prison for 35 years," said Farhan Sharafani, a tribal leader in the far north of Iraq in a village called Mrehban. "Anyone under 35 knows only that. In his mind, he's thinking of himself, not his country." Enter Mr. Jaburi. An energetic businessman, Mr. Jaburi, 44, lived outside Iraq for a number of years, an experience his critics say was necessitated by having stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from Uday Hussein in a cigarette business. Mr. Jaburi insists that he never worked with Uday, saying he met Mr. Hussein's son only three times, the first in 1989 at Uday's behest. He said he left Iraq because he had been privy to a plot to kill Saddam Hussein and feared for his life. Mr. Jaburi speaks English fluently, and wears Western-style clothing. He says he was never a member of the Baath Party or connected to the old government. Even so, he had a very favored position in society. He was rich in the 1980's, living in what he described as a mansion, gilded on the inside, "that all the generals wished was theirs." He made millions of dollars from what he described as an import-export business. He moved around, living in Turkey, Jordan and Syria. But he loved politics. He saw his chance in Mosul, as the United States was in the final stages of its war against Mr. Hussein. He became an ally of the renegade Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani. There was friction with the American commander from the start. In an interview last month, the commander, Col. Robert Waltemeyer, said Mr. Jaburi hindered his troops as they entered Mosul. According to Colonel Waltemeyer, Mr. Jaburi falsely told him that the Iraqi Army was waiting to surrender. In fact, the Iraqi troops had long earlier fled the city. And as the Americans waited for the surrender to happen, people began a looting spree. Residents still blame American forces for not entering the city more quickly and securing it. The American military also raised questions about Mr. Jaburi's role in a shooting incident that left at least 10 dead. When a crowd of anti-American protesters gathered soon after the city fell, Mr. Jaburi presented himself as the new governor of the city. The crowd pelted him with rocks and Mr. Jaburi retreated into the building. Later, shots came from the enraged crowd. Marines fired back. Mosul residents still refer to the incident as a massacre. But the next American commander to arrive in Mosul, Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, chose to work with Mr. Jaburi. For Mr. Jaburi, the prize was the election of the local government. He quickly took a leading role. General Petraeus said Mr. Jaburi had been given power because he took the initiative and his tribe was one of the biggest. "There are some views that he has had too high a profile," the general said. "But you have to have people who are willing to invest lots of energy and time." In the end, a mayor was elected. The election was praised as advancing a political process that seemed to be lagging in other parts of the country. The new city council also included representatives from most ethnic minorities in the area. But Arab and Kurdish critics said the group that took part in the election was replete with Baath Party officials and complained that delegates were given a choice of just three candidates for mayor, all nominated by Mr. Jaburi. "It's not democracy," said Ali Jajawee, a retired Iraqi Army general. "He was the man behind the screen, controlling the process." Though the first elections in Iraq's short history were in 1953, the Iraqi people - Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Kurds and Assyrian Christians - have bounced between military junta, kings and dictators for most of the past century. For that reason, says Mr. Sharafani, the tribal leader, it was too early to hold elections. "You don't start to build your house in the winter - you wait for spring," he said. "Now is winter. Opportunists are very, very dangerous for Iraq." Mr. Sharafani is among those who sat out the election rather than fight what they saw as a flawed process. Still, he is hopeful that better elections - once they are held - will bring about effective government. But the Americans have to stay. "Without the Americans," he said, "it will be worse than Saddam." _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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