Tue, May 20, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Germany's denazification serves as model for postwar Iraq


If Nazi Germany could be transformed into a flourishing democracy, so peace-loving it angered its erstwhile US occupiers by refusing to back their war in the Gulf, the same should be possible for Baathist Iraq.

Indeed, many Iraqi exiles believe the denazification of Germany should serve as a model for how to purge and punish members of former president Saddam Hussein's Baath party and build democracy.

Some 8.5 million Germans -- well over a tenth of the population -- belonged to Adolf Hitler's Nazi party. At least a million of Iraq's 26 million people were full Baath party members, although many more were registered as supporters.

Germany's Western occupiers divided Nazis into five categories ranging from "major offenders" to "persons exonerated" on the basis of detailed questionnaires. By 1949, tribunals had heard almost a million cases, 22,000 Nazis had lost their public-sector jobs and 9,000 were jailed.

Angela Borgstedt, a Karlsruhe University historian, said the process was so overwhelming that lesser offenders were tried first and interest waned before many top Nazis were punished.

"It was very cumbersome and they tried to get results as quickly as possible which led to more serious cases being delayed and they then profited from later amnesties," she said.

But Borgstedt said the process was still valuable.

"Those who took part said it was important that the attempt was made. At least for the 10 to 15 minutes it took to fill out the questionnaire they were confronted with their own past," she said.

Pro-American Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi has called for the "de-Baathification" of Iraq, warning of violence if top officials are not held to account.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, set up to hunt and prosecute the Nazis behind the Holocaust, proposes that a US-led military court should try Iraqis in Baghdad, based on the Nuremberg Tribunal which sentenced top Nazis to death.

US-led forces have detained about a third of the officials on a list of 55 most wanted Iraqis and are holding up to 7,500 prisoners of war. They have suggested that Iraqis set up their own special court to try those accused of crimes.

General Tommy Franks, the US commander in Iraq, said on May 11 that the Baath party, founded in Syria during World War II, had been dissolved in Iraq.

Despite a desire to replace the old guard with exiles, Iraq's occupiers have reinstated much of the police force and asked government workers to return to work to restore order and public services. They have demanded that top ministry officials sign a document denouncing the party that had ruled Iraq since 1968.

German historians warn against trying to purge every Baath member and say Iraq's occupiers should focus on top figures.

Whatever process is adopted, it must be consistent to win acceptance, unlike in Germany, where policies varied across the four occupation zones and the focus waned from 1948 as the Cold War began and Communism replaced Nazism as the main enemy.

Many Nazis who lost their jobs after the war were later reinstated, prompting a home-grown second wave of denazification in the late 1960s as German students demanded a new purge. German school books only mentioned the Holocaust from the 1970s.

"It is important to pursue war criminals but its success depends whether it is driven by the population so that people become aware of what democracy and human rights mean," said Juliana Wetzel from Berlin's Center for Anti-Semitism Research.

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