Sunday, August 03, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) Bernard Kerik was dubbed the ''Baghdad Terminator'' after he summarily dismissed a newly reinstated Iraqi official who turned out to be a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

A British journalist happened to be there and the ex-New York police commissioner had a new unofficial title.

''If you're going to criticize me for terminating Baath Party members go ahead. I like that,'' Kerik tells an Associated Press reporter accompanying him on his day's rounds. ''You can't please everyone. We're in Iraq; this is a war zone. Perhaps you can do things nicely, but there's times you can't.''...

Banging his fist on a desk, he brings to order a meeting of advisers at the interim Interior Ministry, which oversees the Iraqi police force he's responsible for re-establishing.

Then Kerik speaks softly and slowly. ''I want to know what you're doing, what you're supposed to be doing, what you need to do it.''

Spotting an unfamiliar face, he shoots a question: ''Who are you?'' The woman springs to attention sputtering her name, department and duties.

Kerik listens, sipping coffee from a plastic cup.

The meeting slogs along. The Baghdad International Airport is ready to reopen but still unsafe. Fire trucks are sitting idle because the bureaucracy is snarled. Traffic police are being ignored or abused.

Kerik says he is unfazed by the magnitude of problems facing the U.S.-led interim administration: sabotage, guerrilla attacks, the heat, decrepit electric and water systems and the impatience of Iraqis and the rest of the world.

When he was police commissioner in New York, he and his team turned it into one of the world's safest cities, and that will happen in Iraq, too, he says.

''It took eight years and I had every resource available information technology, a readymade staff I had everything you could imagine and it took eight years. We've only been here for 100 days and you want what? Come on!''

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