"It's a wonderful challenge to help the Iraqi people basically reclaim their country from a despotic regime," L. Paul Bremer said in a tarmac interview minutes after his plane landed in Basara.
Bremer will head a team that has made inroads to restore law and order and government functions, but still hasn't restored enough security or services to satisfy many Iraqis.
Bremer replaced retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner as the senior American civilian in Iraq.
He said former U.S. ambassador Barbara Bodine, who was coordinator for central Iraq, including Baghdad, within the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, was being reassigned back to Washington by the State Department "for their own reasons."
The New York Times, citing unidentified administration officials, reported in Monday's editions that four other officials under Garner were also expected to leave soon: Margaret Tutwiler, who had been head of communications; Tim Carney, who had been overseeing Iraq's Ministry of Industry and Minerals; David Dunford, a senior Middle East expert; and John Limbert, the ambassador to Mauritania.
In other developments:
U.S. authorities are interrogating Iraqi prisoners to find out whether banned weapons may still be in the hands of Iraqi Special Republican Guard units that eluded capture when Saddam's regime collapsed.
The failure to find weapons yet leaves a key mission unfulfilled. The job of restoring normalcy to war-torn Iraq is also not complete.
In its three weeks here, the reconstruction agency has made some inroads in a city and country drifting without law and order, or other government functions, since U.S. troops took control of Baghdad around April 9.
The Americans have deployed some Iraqi police in Baghdad's streets, have made nominal $20 emergency salary payments to draw many bureaucrats back to government offices, and have inaugurated a political process through which Iraq's anti-Saddam factions may produce an interim government by June.
But many ordinary Iraqis complain loudly that the U.S. occupation has failed to restore basic services.
Baghdadis are getting less than half the electrical power they need. That, in turn, has limited the treatment and pumping of clean water. Worst of all, Iraqis say, looters and other criminals are still free to prey on ordinary citizens and their property.
Oil production, vital for recovery, may resume more slowly than thought, and it may take two more months to get full electricity back in Baghdad.
New arson fires broke out Sunday, sending palls of smoke billowing over a city wracked by looting and other lawlessness since a U.S.-British invasion toppled President Saddam Hussein's government last month.
After arriving in Basra, Bremer said he wanted to "pay public tribute to Jay and all of his people for the great job they have done."
Reacting to reports that Garner would be leaving the country earlier than originally planned, Bremer said, "I certainly intend to work with him in the next weeks here to get a bunch of serious milestones accomplished."
Standing beside Bremer, Garner said the reports that he would be leaving early are "not true."
"What I say we have here is one team, one fight," said Garner. "We'll drive on."
Neither Bremer nor Garner commented on the Times' report, but a Defense Department official traveling with the Bremer party, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that Tutwiler, at least, had never been expected to stay in Iraq very long.
Following the U.S.-issued decree on Sunday dissolving Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, Bremer was said to be considering issuing additional orders dissolving Saddam's former defense and security apparatus, including the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard that were loyal to him.
Bremer, 61, is a former assistant to former Secretaries of State William P. Rogers and Henry Kissinger. He was ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism from 1986 to 1989, and he also has served as U.S. ambassador to Holland. He most recently has been chairman of the Marsh Crisis Consulting firm.
Bremer reports directly to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Gen. Tommy Franks, the Central Command chief, remains in charge of all U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and the region.