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The people's choice

Published: Fri, August 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.

Baltimore Sun: If you look at it one way, Alaa al-Tamimi must clearly have seemed the right man for the job last year when L. Paul Bremer III picked him to be mayor of Baghdad. A bright, enthusiastic engineer, he had returned to Iraq from exile in Canada determined to do great things for his country. He was energetic and knowledgeable about Western municipal practices, and also clean-shaven -- which is to say, secular. He's the sort of Iraqi the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority must have felt comfortable with.
But what good is having the right man for the job when he gets a budget of only $85 million for a city of 6 million people? Baltimore, with a tenth the number of residents, spends more than 25 times as much every year. The insurgency aside, Baghdad's major problems have to do with too little electricity and water and too much garbage and sewage, plus a crime wave and, right now, a heat wave, and a dust wave, and a health-care system strapped for just about everything. None of this adds up to political success, as Mr. al-Tamimi has learned.
Municipal coup
Monday, the duly elected City Council removed him from his job -- not by vote but by taking over his office under cover of a suffocating sandstorm. The City Council chief declared him to be ex-mayor, and installed another man in his place. Mr. al-Tamimi, who wasn't at City Hall at the time, says it was a municipal coup carried out by gun-toting militiamen. His opponents say they didn't bring militiamen -- those were bodyguards toting those weapons, and who could be faulted for wanting bodyguards in Baghdad?
The City Council was elected last January, during that purple-fingered event that caused U.S. neoconservatives to swoon over the coming of American-sponsored democracy to the Middle East. That vote swept the Badr Organization to power in the City Council; this is a decidedly hard-line Shiite political group, hostile to Sunnis and to secular Iraqis and to foreigners, and associated with a large number of organized gun-toting men -- and, sure, let's call them bodyguards.
Mr. al-Tamimi taunted his City Council foes over the beards they all wear. He said he owed his post and allegiance to the national government, and not to them, but they saw it otherwise. They said they were the true representatives of the people -- and they have a point. Now they have the power.

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