- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

BAGHDAD — A day after Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging, the Shi’ite-dominated government offered a major concession yesterday to his Sunni backers that could reinstate thousands of members of the ousted dictator’s Ba’ath Party in their jobs.

With a tight curfew holding down violence after Saddam’s guilty verdict and death sentence, the government reached out to disaffected Sunnis in hopes of enticing them away from the insurgency, which has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and is responsible for the vast majority of U.S. casualties.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of five more American troops, two in a helicopter crash north of Baghdad and three in fighting west of the capital. The deaths raised to 18 the number of U.S. forces killed in the first six days of November.

Sectarian killings also persisted despite the extraordinary security precautions. Fifty-nine bodies were discovered Sunday and yesterday across Iraq, police said. But with no surge in violence, authorities gradually were lifting the restrictions in Baghdad and two restive Sunni provinces: Pedestrians were allowed back on the capital’s streets late yesterday afternoon, and the international airport was to reopen today.

Across the country, Shi’ites celebrated the verdict while Sunnis held defiant counterdemonstrations.

Iraq’s appeals court is expected to rule on an appeal by Saddam’s attorneys by the middle of January, the chief prosecutor said yesterday, setting into motion an execution by mid-February. If the ruling is upheld, the Associated Press has learned, Iraq’s three-member presidential council will allow Saddam’s hanging. The execution must be carried out within 30 days of the appeals court’s decision.

Sunday’s verdict and yesterday’s opening to the Sunnis were seen as a welcome break for the United States, which had called for the Iraqi government to stop purging members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party from their jobs. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, however, has balked at U.S. requests to set up an amnesty program for insurgents.

Mr. al-Maliki has been engaged in a public feud with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad since last month, when the prime minister disputed the envoy’s announcement that he had agreed to a timeline for progress in quelling violence and encouraging Sunnis to join the political process.

Indications emerged yesterday that Mr. Khalilzad was preparing to leave his post.

Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, during a visit to Baghdad on Friday, told Mr. al-Maliki that Mr. Khalilzad would leave about the first of the year and be replaced by Ryan Crocker, a senior career diplomat who is ambassador to Pakistan, two top aides to the Iraqi leader said.

The United States dissolved and banned the Ba’ath Party in May 2003, a month after toppling Saddam. The U.S. later softened its stance, inviting former high-level officers from the disbanded military to join the security forces.

About 1.5 million of Iraq’s 27 million people belonged to the Ba’ath Party, formally known as the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party, when Saddam was ousted. Most said they joined for professional, not ideological, reasons.

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