US disbands Saddam army and bans Ba'athists

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The Independent Online

The US-led administration announced yesterday that it was disbanding the Iraqi army and security apparatus and would create a much smaller self-defence corps to replace them. It also abolished the Information Ministry, ended conscription and blacklisted officials of the former ruling Ba'ath Party.

The moves came the day after the UN Security Council passed a resolution ending sanctions on Iraq and recognising the US and British occupation. Technically, the resolution gave the US and Britain authority to start Iraq's post-war rebuilding, allowing them to dissolve the institutions of the previous regime and establish new ones.

However, among the British and Australian allies who helped the US topple Saddam Hussein's regimethere was concern that the measures should have come much earlier. In London, the Prime Minister's envoy to Iraq, John Sawers, said that restoring Baghdad's water, power and other services was taking far longer than envisaged and proving more difficult than in most provincial towns.

But he said that the new US chief administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, was beginning to "get a grip" on the situation. And he attributed the problems in part to the fact that services had been "skewed" towards the capital before the war.

Mr Sawers, appointed as an envoy to work alongside the US-led administration, and distinct from the British diplomatic representative, had just returned after two weeks in Iraq, spent mostly in Baghdad.

Six weeks after the end of the main military hostilties, however, British officials remain frustrated with the slow progress made in restoring law and order in the capital. They repeatedly stress the need for security as a precondition for other improvements. They appeared to welcome the tougher line the US authorities began to take last week with looters and other criminals.

Although about 7,000 police have returned to work in Baghdad, many of them are considered unsuitable for the job in hand. The city is controlled by the US 3rd Infantry Division, which spearheaded the assault on Baghdad. It is awaiting replacement by troops better equipped to work with civilians.

Alexander Downer, the Australian Foreign Minister, said during a visit to Baghdad yesterday: "We really do need a better performance in re-establishing law and order."

The US and British timetable to form an interim Iraqi government has slipped, and a planned national conference is unlikely to be held before July.

British officials said yesterday that it would be at least a year before an Iraqi interim authority was in place.