- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2003

Former Ba’athist officials who worked under Saddam Hussein could play a constructive role in the future of Iraq, depending on their actions and current behavior, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday.

“I would assume that as you move forward, you would have to start making judgments as to whether any of these people have sufficiently changed through their actions, [whether] the way they are currently behaving could make a contribution to society and in what way,” he said.

Mr. Powell’s remarks come even as the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and senior officers in U.S. Central Command slowly begin to court Saddam’s military officers for roles in the new Iraqi army.

The actions signal a move away from the coalition’s earlier attempts to purge the Iraqi establishment of former members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party and military.

On May 15, L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, dissolved the old Iraqi army as part of a larger policy of “deba’athification.” His diktat strictly prohibited full-fledged members of the Ba’ath Party from joining the new government. There were, however, exceptions built into the order and Mr. Bremer formed a committee of Iraqis to review special cases.

“[Mr. Bremer] is very pleased with what deba’athification has done,” Mr. Powell said yesterday. “It has removed all elements of a rotten regime and brought a sense of relief to the people.”

Mr. Powell also made it a point to add that “deba’athification was our policy and is our policy.”

But on the ground at least, there appears to be a change in approach. This month, the Iraqi Governing Council announced that it would loosen some of the strict prohibitions on high-level Ba’athists joining the new Iraqi government.

Mr. Bremer appointed some former members of Saddam’s regime to the Governing Council after they had proved their loyalty to the U.S.-led coalition. One such member, Aqila al-Hashimi, who had served as an aide to former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, paid for this conversion with her life when she was slain last month, purportedly by remnants of Saddam’s regime.

One former CIA operations officer who has visited Iraq several times since its liberation said yesterday that the CIA and certain Iraqi groups have already made contact with some members of Saddam’s intelligence services.

“On the Mukhabarat (Iraqi intelligence) side, we are exploiting people who do not have blood oozing from under their fingernails,” the source said. “But this is not a formal decision. Rather than set up a formal intelligence organization, I would think people would go through some of the existing groups on the ground.”

Two of those groups on the ground, the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi National Accord, maintained contacts throughout the 1990s with Iraqi intelligence and security agencies while receiving money from the U.S. government. The leader of the Iraqi National Accord, Iyad Allawi, is the president of the Governing Council this month.

In an interview with a group of reporters yesterday, Mr. Powell also said he would make a final push to secure a new U.N. resolution on postwar Iraq and that Washington would decide by Monday whether to go ahead or withdraw it.

“We’re very actively engaged. … I’m not thinking of pulling it at the moment, but I might by Monday, but I’m not thinking of pulling it now, not at all, yet,” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

Washington hopes to get the resolution passed before the Oct. 23-24 aid conference in Madrid, where donor nations will pledge financial support for Iraq’s reconstruction.

The United States wants the new resolution to press nations to contribute more troops and money to help rebuild the country.

On North Korea, Mr. Powell said Washington has drafted new ideas on security assurances to offer Pyongyang in exchange for a promise to dismantle nuclear-weapon programs.

Washington envisions a public written document, preferably signed also by some of North Korea’s neighbors, but not the formal nonaggression treaty that North Korea has demanded in previous talks, he said.

The United States has mentioned the possibility of written security assurances for North Korea in the past, but Mr. Powell said the new ideas go beyond what Washington had put on the table at the last talks with North Korea in Beijing in August.

Mr. Powell said no new talks had been arranged with North Korea to follow the August meeting, which was also attended by China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. However, China’s U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, yesterday supported a reported North Korean call for more talks in December, saying Beijing also wanted talks by the end of the year.

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