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Associated PressU.S. civil administrator L. Paul Bremer, front right, tours the ancient city of Babylon in central Iraq Thursday.

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - He's banned the Baathists from government, ordered Iraqis to disarm and consigned Saddam Hussein's military to history's trash bin.

L. Paul Bremer has all but said there's a new sheriff in town, yet the U.S. civilian administrator's difficult task has just begun to restore order and basic public services and show that the American effort to rebuild post-war Iraq is advancing steadily.

Since Bremer arrived in Iraq on May 12 and took the reins of the American-led administration from retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, he has moved quickly to expunge the remnants of Saddam's regime from positions of influence.

After U.S. military authorities banned the Baath Party, Bremer outlawed other organizations that also served as the pillars of Saddam's regime, including the government's various security agencies.

He blacklisted Baath officials, ordered the Iraqi military and Republican Guard to disband, and abolished the Information Ministry, which exerted total control over the Iraqi media for the past four decades. The moves, while largely on paper, trumpet the U.S. position: In Iraq, times have changed.

Bremer, whose team is based in one of Saddam's palaces, has vowed to end the lawlessness and looting that has plagued Baghdad and other Iraqi cities since Saddam's fall, and to restore basic public services and utilities. Most importantly, he has said that a national conference to choose an interim government will probably not be held until July.

"We certainly have a law and order problem in Baghdad we're trying to deal with," he said last week. "We're trying to deliver security to the Iraqi people."

But, he added, "Life is getting better for Iraqis very quickly."

The perceived failure to achieve a return to normalcy, though, has cast a shadow - not only over Bremer's performance but over the Bush administration's attempts to win international acceptance of its occupation of Iraq.

Even Britain and Australia, America's staunchest allies in the war, have acknowledged continuing problems with law and order in Baghdad. Their governments fear a further political backlash after the U.S. failure to uncover any weapons of mass destruction - the main reason President Bush cited for the war.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who visited Iraq last week, made clear that Bremer's administration needed to do much more to restore security, saying that took precedence over any efforts to forge an interim authority.

"We really do need a better performance in re-establishing law and order," Downer said after emerging from a meeting with Bremer. "People understandably are unhappy."

On Baghdad's streets, Iraqis have little praise for Bremer's fledgling administration.

"Things have become worse since he arrived. Gas lines are longer, garbage is piling up, there's no electricity, and security is so bad that people are too scared to allow their children to go to school," said Alaa Rasul, 47, a Baghdad handyman with five children.

"This is not freedom," he said. "This is chaos."

Although no crime statistics are available, during the past week there appeared to be less gunfire on Baghdad's streets. Still, the appearance of bodies killed in overnight robberies or confrontations has become a routine event.

U.S. officials insist things are getting better.

They say the lawlessness is being steadily reduced and say that the 1st Armored Division - a unit with significant experience in conflict resolution - is arriving to take over responsibility for security in the capital from the 3rd Infantry Division. The 3rd saw heavy fighting during the war and has been helping keep the peace since.

Some analysts have said the 3rd Infantry Division has had trouble transforming itself from a fighting force into a peacekeeping unit tasked mainly with policing duties - and trouble cooperating with the newly reconstituted police force.

"This will be our prime mission, to improve security throughout the city," said Maj. Scott Slaten, spokesman for the 1st Armored.

Slaten said the division's three armored brigades were currently taking up positions in the city. Changes will include the arrival of thousands more U.S. military police in Baghdad in coming weeks, he said, though exact numbers haven't been released.

The heavy Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles rumbling around Baghdad since April will be replaced with more nimble Humvees. The new division also plans to use its 4th Brigade - composed of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters - to assist ground patrols, especially at night.

To beef up security even more, the former New York Police Department commissioner Bernard Kerik has been hired "to assist in the establishment of security, stability and law and order in Iraq."

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