Baghdad, 19 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military authorities made some progress today towards re-establishing law and order in Iraq and also announced the capture of Iraq's former finance minister. In the eastern city of Kut, a U.S. Marine commander called tribal leaders together to seek their support in running an interim regional administration.
General Rich Natonski told the gathering of several dozen local leaders that it might be some time before democratic elections can be held and that in the interim, the government consists of himself sitting in council with them. An anti-American protest took place near the meeting site.
In Qatar, U.S. Central Command said Iraqi police have arrested Iraq's former finance minister and turned him over to U.S. forces in Baghdad. The arrest of Hikmat al-Azzawi, also a former deputy prime minister, means the U.S. military now has in custody five men on its list of 55 most-wanted Iraqi officials.
Earlier today, the countries bordering Iraq called for U.S. and British forces to leave Iraq as soon as possible. The call came in a statement issued in Riyadh after a meeting of the foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and Iran.
In Baghdad, the International Committee of the Red Cross says that medical supplies pillaged from hospitals in Baghdad are being gradually returned as residents heed calls by religious leaders.
The committee said the returns have become "the main source of medical supplies for hospitals."
Most Baghdad hospitals are currently under the protection of U.S. forces or Iraqi police.
Since the fall of the Hussein regime, Baghdad has been the scene of major looting, especially in public sector buildings, museums, stores, and hospitals.
In northern Iraq, almost 100 Iraqi prisoners of war were today freed by their Kurdish captors after spending as long as three weeks in the Ashkotwan prison camp in northern Iraq.
Akram Sofi, a Kurdistan Democratic Party official overseeing the camp, said the orders to free the men came from Mas'ud Barzani, the party leader.
Prisoners say they were treated well and rode out the war playing soccer and volleyball as well as watching CNN on satellite television.
There was no U.S. military presence visible at the camp.