- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

BAGHDAD — A proclamation banning some 30,000 members of the outlawed Ba’ath Party from public-sector jobs is being interpreted by U.S. officials as a victory for the Pentagon in its struggle with the CIA and the State Department to determine policy in Iraq.

The officials say the proclamation by the country’s new civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, sent the most powerful signal yet of the coalition’s determination to weed out those who remain loyal to Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime.

The CIA and State Department had favored a far smaller-scale removal of Ba’athist bureaucrats, arguing that the best way to restore stability was to maintain some continuity in government.

“This argument … has at times paralyzed decision-making in Iraq,” said one insider who declined to be identified.

The decree went “even further in one respect” than had been demanded by the most outspoken of Iraqi groups on this issue, said a senior spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmed Chalabi.

In addition to banning former full Ba’ath Party members from public life — including running universities and hospitals — the decree ordered investigations of all who have been serving in the top three tiers of government to see whether they pose a security risk.

The ban does not apply to some 1.2 million rank-and-file Ba’athists for whom party membership was needed to qualify for affairs as innocent as youth-group activity. The interim administrator can also grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

An argument had raged within the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) over the need for the drastic measures, with insiders saying the CIA had pressured former chief administrator Jay Garner to avoid such steps.

“Bremer is a different kettle of fish,” said one. “He has much more clout, and he’s starting to use it.”

Iraqi opposition groups also supported the crackdown on the Ba’athists, dismissing worries that their skills were needed to run the country.

“On the contrary, it will improve the way the country operates, ” said Entifadh Qanbar, the INC spokesman and a trained engineer. “These 30,000 sat on the necks of the real technocrats who did the hard and productive work.”

Sources said Mr. Bremer had also stifled a bid by the CIA to install a close associate of Saddam’s family in a position of influence.

The man was linked to Saddam’s son-in-law Hussein Kamel Hassan, who led Iraqi weapons programs before he defected to Jordan in 1995, only to be lured back to his death.

Encouraged by the ORHA, faculty at the nation’s 14 top universities voted out their chief administrators over the weekend, said State Department official Andrew Erdman.

“You could see the excitement, with people yelling and exuberant and very emotional,” he said. “They are thirsting for a fresh, clean start without the Ba’athists, as part of the world academic society again.”

But some Iraqis still believe Mr. Bremer’s proclamation will set back efforts to rebuild the country.

“Do [the Americans] want to rebuild this country or destroy it?” asked Sabah Jumah, 68, a retired engineer who once served as director-general of Iraq’s oil ministry though he was not a party member.

“Society will easily identify the real criminals. Let society reject them rather than rules made by the men in charge.”

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