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Self-proclaimed Baghdad mayor promises trials

Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi claims a government has been formed and says a constitution will be based on Islamic law.

©Associated Press
April 21, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Mohammed Mohsen al-Zubaidi, an opposition figure who has proclaimed himself mayor, said on Sunday he has formed a municipal government and promises to put on trial anyone whose "hands are stained with the blood of the Iraqi people" under a new constitution based on Islamic law.

Al-Zubaidi, a recently returned exile, said he had held meetings to draft new statutes in a country that has spent decades answering to only one authority -- Saddam Hussein.

"We have met with lawmen to create laws, and to open the courts so that life can begin to take on legitimacy," al-Zubaidi said at a news conference.

Without elaborating, he said Iraq's new constitution would be based on Islamic law, as many Arab nations' constitutions are to varying degrees. The comment drew applause from Arab journalists gathered in a sweltering coffee shop.

"Every person whose hands are stained with the blood of the Iraqi people will be put on trial," al-Zubaidi said.

Islam is the official religion under Iraq's constitution, but followers of other faiths have freedom to practice.

Al-Zubaidi and the leader of his U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, are Shiite Muslims. But Chalabi told ABC's This Week on Sunday that he does not envision an Islamic theocracy, although religious groups would likely play a role in governing Iraq.

"There is a role for Islamic religious parties," he said. "But they are not going to be forcing any agenda or forcing a theocracy on the Iraqi people."

Days after al-Zubaidi essentially proclaimed himself mayor of Baghdad, it remained unclear where his authority comes from -- or if it exists. No U.S. officials were present at his news conference in the Palestine Hotel.

"I was chosen by tribal leaders and educated people, the doctors of the city and other prominent figures," al-Zubaidi said. "We are not a transitional government. We are an executive committee to run Baghdad."

Baghdad has no government. U.S. forces and returning Iraqi police are keeping the peace until they can arrange for an interim civil authority, expected to be led by retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. He is scheduled to pay his first postwar visit to Baghdad today.

But al-Zubaidi said Sunday that 22 committees had been formed to administer Baghdad and that people had been appointed to lead them.

He urged people working in Iraq's ministries to return to their jobs and predicted radio, television and the Iraqi News Agency would be running today.

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