US Plans Credit System for Sale of Goods to Iraq


By Patrick E. Tyler

New York Times
May 27, 2003

The head of the occupation authority in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, said today that the Central Bank of Iraq and a group of private banks would begin providing "substantial" trade credits for exports to Iraq within weeks. Now that the United Nations has lifted sanctions on Iraq, and as the country resumes selling its crude oil in coming weeks, Mr. Bremer said the trade credit system would "lubricate international trade with Iraq" and would also serve to demonstrate symbolically "to the world that Iraq is open for business again." In announcing the opening of bank credit lines to finance the sale of goods to Iraqi ministries, government-owned factories and private companies, Mr. Bremer said that the total amount was still under discussion but that American and British companies were expected to be among the first to benefit.

Contracts are pending to sell everything from oil field technology to transportation services and telecommunications to Iraqi ministries coming back into operation under the occupying powers. One good economic omen for Iraq, Mr. Bremer announced, was the discovery of $250 million in salvageable American currency in the flooded basement vault of the Iraqi Central Bank. In the last few days, American crews drained river water from the damaged building and opened the vault to find the currency. American military forces earlier recovered hundreds of millions of dollars believed to have been looted from the Central Bank just before the war by Baath Party officials and relatives of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Bremer's upbeat economic report was delivered on a day when United States military forces in Iraq suffered two ambush attacks. Two soldiers were killed and five others were wounded in attacks on convoys. The first occurred 110 miles northwest of Baghdad just after dawn when an eight-vehicle convoy of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment was on its way to resupply American forces near the city of Al Qaim close to the Syrian border. The convoy came under attack from gunmen who opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

One American soldier was killed and another wounded in the firefight as attack helicopters and ground forces reinforced the besieged convoy, a military statement said. This afternoon in Baghdad, four American soldiers were wounded when an explosive device believed to be a land mine was hurled by an unidentified assailant at a convoy on the road to the international airport on the western side of the capital. The United States Central Command later issued a statement saying one soldier had died and three others had been wounded in the incident, The Associated Press reported. "A man came running straight out at the road, and I engaged," said Pfc. Dustin Meeks. "He just sprung out of the bushes, and I perceived him as a threat, and I shot at him."

Despite the gunfire, the assailant managed to throw the explosive device into the path of an Army Humvee, destroying it and wounding all three of the passengers, according to the Army sergeant riding in the second vehicle. "The gunner of the truck was slung about 15, 20 feet," said Private Meeks, who was interviewed at the scene of the attack. He was the gunner of a Humvee driving in convoy with the destroyed vehicle. The two Humvees, part of a scout platoon of the Third Infantry Division, were driving north about three miles from the airport when they were attacked. A fourth soldier, from the Third Battalion of the 69th Armored Regiment, was wounded by shrapnel from exploding munitions when he stopped to assist in pulling the soldiers from the smoldering wreckage.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed today that its inspectors were headed back to Iraq, but only to check the country's inventory of nuclear materials, which the agency is charged with safeguarding under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Associated Press reported that the team was expected to leave for Iraq by week's end. Also today, United States military officials said they had arrested a brother-in-law of Saddam Hussein after giving chase to a vehicle speeding through Mr. Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, according to Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of the Fourth Infantry Division.

The vehicle was spotted by an American patrol aircraft. The police followed the car to a hospital in Tirkit. Hospital employees led authorities to the man, Mulhana Hamood Abdul Jabar, whose name appears on a list of 245 wanted Iraqis, although not on the list of the 55 most wanted. The passengers in the car were two unidentified men suffering from gunshot wounds. The car also contained $300,000 in cash and an equivalent amount of Iraqi dinars. In his news conference today, Mr. Bremer said shortages of electrical power were still hampering economic recovery in the Iraqi capital. Though power has returned to much of the city, industries, homes and business are plagued by rotating blackouts. Mr. Bremer also said that in a "matter of days" Iraqi oil refineries would begin producing gasoline to alleviate the long waits for fuel that have added to frustration and occasional violence in the capital.

On the political front, Mr. Bremer said he would provide no details of his plans to form an "interim administration" of Iraqi political figures, and he said he had asked Iraqi political figures to keep confidential their discussions with him about the country's political evolution. The "leadership council" of the Iraqi political groups that worked with the United States and its allies to topple Mr. Hussein has expressed deep frustration with the shift in policy that has pushed them to the sidelines as the occupation authority was established. Mr. Bremer said the United Nations Security Council resolution that last week lifted penalties that had been imposed on Iraq and recognized the United States and Britain as occupation powers "did not change the reality." "The reality under the rules of war is that the coalition is the occupying power in Iraq," he said.

One Iraqi political figure said today that Mr. Bremer had discussed with Iraqi political leaders a plan to appoint a number of Iraqis to important ministry posts in coming weeks. This collective could become the interim administration, though it would have no political power. In addition, the Iraqi said, Mr. Bremer has suggested that a national conference might be assembled this summer to select a commission to work on drafting a constitution. Iraqi political groups say they are planning to send a delegation to Washington and London to protest the failure of the occupying powers to move more quickly to establish an interim government of Iraqis and pave the way for elections.

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