Wednesday, August 13, 2003; 2:15 PM
PARIS (Reuters) - 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.
"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," the magazine quoted Salameh as saying.
He did not spell out which prominent Iraqis had warned of an uprising against the U.S. and British-led coalition. 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 that Washington's British allies, who have generally been seen as more active in bringing Iraqis into administering their region, also faced difficulties.
Southern Iraq, dominated by the long oppressed Shi'ite Muslim majority, had hitherto been fairly calm. But prominent Shi'ite 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 "proteges of local factions," he said.