- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

BAGHDAD — As many as 30,000 top members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party will be banned from a future Iraqi government, a senior U.S. official said yesterday, as part of a sweeping decree aimed at putting “a stake in the heart” of the long-entrenched organization.

The order, the latest salvo in what is becoming an increasingly high-profile battle by American occupying forces against remnants of Saddam’s regime, will not be easy to carry out. The talent pool of the Iraqi civil service is brimming with bureaucrats whose livelihoods depended on Ba’ath Party affiliation.

U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer released the decree yesterday barring Ba’athists from the party’s top four echelons from any public position — whether in universities, hospitals or minor government posts.

An even stricter vetting process will be used in appointing officials to Iraqi ministries dealing with security, such as the defense and interior ministries. All members of a future Iraqi government will be required to renounce Ba’athism, said an official from the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

“The Ba’ath Party in Iraq is finished,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity at a background briefing inside the marble confines of Saddam’s Republican Palace. “We mean to be sure that by this process, we will put a stake in its heart.”

The reconstruction team’s purging efforts will begin within days and target 15,000 to 30,000 party members, the official said.

But officials trying to restart the country’s ministries and civil service face a major challenge: how to purge Saddam sympathizers without gutting the bureaucracy.

Under the decree, some of Iraq’s most able administrators would be barred from helping rebuild the country.

“That’s the price we’re willing to pay,” the official said, adding that lower-level functionaries and former Iraqi exiles will replace party members.

About 50 women rallied yesterday in a Baghdad central square to urge U.S. authorities to include women in Iraq’s interim administration.

“We want to show the world that Saddam was a criminal and committed crimes against Iraqi women,” said Rahbiya al-Gassab, a member of the Iraqi Women’s League.

As many as 1.5 million of Iraq’s 24 million people belonged to the party under Saddam. But 25,000 to 50,000 were full-fledged members, the elite targeted by U.S. officials.

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