BASRA, Iraq – A "nucleus of leadership" in Iraq (search) may be in place within days to guide the country through the decisive selection of an interim government, the U.S. civil administrator said Monday.
Iraq's third-largest city, Mosul (search), is already moving ahead. Representatives of its tribal and ethnic groups named a cross-section of residents Monday to run municipal affairs alongside the U.S. military.
Meanwhile, in an example of the lawlessness of the ousted Iraqi regime, The New York Times reported Monday on its Web site that Saddam Hussein (search) removed nearly $1 billion in cash from the country's Central Bank shortly before U.S. forces began bombing Baghdad.
The money -- some $900 in U.S. $100 bills and $100 million in euros -- was taken from the bank in three tractor trailers. Saddam's younger son, Qusai (search), and Abid al-Haimd Mahmood, Saddam's personal assistant, organized the removal of the cash on Saddam's orders, the Times report said.
The operation, which took place at 4 a.m. on March 18, was confirmed by U.S. Treasury official George Mullinax, who is assigned to help rebuild Iraq's banking system. Mullinax told the Times that about $900 million was taken by "Saddam Hussein's people."
A U.S. Army Special Forces officer, Col. Ted Seel, said intelligence indicated that a convoy of tractor trailers crossed the border into Syria, but that the contents of the trucks was unknown, the Times report said.
With the Iraqi president gone, U.S. officials have been consulting five anti-Saddam Iraqi leaders in their efforts to form an interim national government ahead of a critical conference at the end of May.
"The five opposition leaders have begun having meetings, and they are going to bring in leaders from inside Iraq and see if we can't form a nucleus of leadership as we enter into June," said retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the American civil administrator.
"By the middle of the month you'll really see the nucleus of a temporary Iraq government."
The five involved in the consultations are Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani; Ahmad Chalabi of the exiled opposition Iraqi National Congress; Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord; and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose elder brother heads the Shiite Muslim group Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Garner said he expects the emerging leadership to include a former foreign minister, Adnan Pachachi, and possibly a Christian and a Sunni Muslim leader.
Some Iraqi politicians proposed that such a group form a collective executive, but Garner said he didn't know whether that would happen.
Of the Iraqi presidency, Garner said, "I don't know if it will be one guy or five guys or three."
Garner also said he expects the newly appointed L. Paul Bremer, a longtime State Department official, to take charge of the political side of the U.S. postwar administration.
Garner, who arrived in Iraq two weeks ago as director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, spoke with reporters during a one-day trip to the southern city of Basra, where he visited a hospital and oil refinery and met with local Iraqi leaders.
Since Saddam's ouster last month, opposition representatives have met twice under U.S. sponsorship to try to chart a political course for Iraq.
The largest such conference, of perhaps 500 delegates, is expected by late May and is intended to select an executive leadership for an "interim authority" that will govern while Iraqis fashion a new constitution and then hold elections.
If a collective executive evolves, as some propose, Garner said he didn't know how it would work. "We've got to let the emerging leaders set a pattern," he said.
As for Bremer's appointment as a civil administrator, a position that would appear to duplicate Garner's, the retired general said it had always been envisioned that his own role would be short-term.
Bremer will focus on the politics and Garner on the rest of the reconstruction efforts, Garner said. He said he expects Bremer to arrive in Iraq by next week.
"I'll stay awhile. There's got to be a good handoff," he said.
No time limit has been placed on the reconstruction office's role in Iraq. Some believe a freely elected government could be in place in two years; others think it will take longer.
Reviewing his office's performance, Garner told reporters that it has done poorly in not quickly establishing a broadcast television station to reach all Iraqis. Only a U.S.-run satellite station, accessible to a few, is operating.
He also said the U.S. planners failed to foresee probably the most significant development in postwar Baghdad -- the rampage of looting and arson that has devastated government buildings and some shops and homes.
During Garner's visit, officials announced that Ole Woehlers Olsen, Danish ambassador to Syria, has been named the office's regional coordinator for Iraq's four southeast provinces -- a new, fourth region in the structure. Salaries, which most Iraqis have not received for weeks, were a prime subject of both the hospital and refinery visits.
Emad Ehthan, an engineer at the Shueiba oil refinery, Iraq's second-largest, said Garner promised the staff $20 emergency payments like those given some civil servants in Baghdad, and said he might raise it to $30.
At the poorly supplied Basra General Hospital, director Dr. Mustafa Ali said the reconstruction office also promised help with equipment, drugs and security, a major problem in Iraqi cities in the aftermath of the war.
"We hope all they have promised will be OK," Ali said.
In Mosul, about 230 representatives from the city's main families and ethnic groups voted for mayor and 23 delegates to the 32-member city council, said Fadhil Mirani, one of the Kurdistan Democratic Party's representatives to the meeting.
Retired army Gen. Ghanim al-Boso, an Arab, was selected as mayor; a Kurd, Khasro Goran, was chosen as deputy mayor; and an ethnic Assyrian and an ethnic Turk were selected as the mayor's assistants.
"The election went very smoothly," Mirani said by telephone. "This is a very good example for Iraq."
Lt. Col. Ryan Gonsalves, a U.S. military commander in Tikrit, said the council would be a "representation from the entire city of Mosul."