Tue, May 13, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US says Baath Party dead, its influence to be purged

AP , BAGHDAD

The US declared Saddam Hussein's Baath Party dead, with the war's commander telling Iraqis that the instrument of their deposed dictator's power was dissolved and promising to purge its influence from the country it dominated for 35 years.

General Tommy Franks' message, delivered Sunday in Arabic by an announcer for the coalition's Information Radio, broadcast a clear message over the AM radio waves across postwar Iraq: Any activity by Baath Party holdouts who oppose US occupation will not be tolerated.

"The Arab Baath Socialist Party is dissolved," Franks said, but high difficulties remain in genuinely eliminating it.

American administrators are struggling to balance the need for a fresh start with an unwelcome reality -- that thousands of Iraq's civil servants had Baath affiliations.

Franks' order came a month after American troops invaded Baghdad and drove out Saddam's regime, which used intrigue and terror to make sure the minority Sunni Muslim-dominated party extended its reach and control into all corners of Iraqi society.

The statement told Iraqi citizens to collect and turn in any materials they had relating to the party and its operations. It called them "an important part of Iraqi government documents."

Unseating the Baath, which advocated Arab unity but became a personal tool of Saddam and his lieutenants, was considered a top priority of American military planners in the run-up to the Iraq war, which began March 20 and largely ended by mid-April.

Banning it was the next logical step -- as American military victors have in the past. The Allies banned the Nazi Party in Germany and the Fascist Party in Italy after World War II, although lower-level party figures were rehabilitated after they renounced the old regimes and were cleared of specific criminal wrongdoing by tribunals.

The general's order Sunday was in some ways academic, given that the Baath regime is no more and the American military and its civilian administrative counterpart occupy the country.

But some upper-level government and party leaders, including Saddam himself, remain unaccounted for. The US says it has made hunting them down a high priority.

For Iraqis, who lived under Saddam's brutality for entire lifetimes, the news was unthinkable mere months ago -- a coda to the convulsions of history they have spent recent weeks watching from front-row seats.

"The people are liberated from fear, from their chains. We were living in a big prison," said Amir Sadi, 25, of Baghdad.

Whatever it was, it was everywhere.

In the weeks since fighting ebbed, the US occupying force's administration has moved to appoint its own overseers to government ministries and bring people back to work with an eye toward excluding Baathists who worked closely with the Saddam regime.

However, membership or affiliation with the party was required for many government and professional jobs, and American officials have acknowledged that purging one-time Baathists from the ranks of Iraq's civil service entirely may be neither possible nor desirable.

That could prove contentious. The acting health minister was the subject of a demonstration by doctors last week because of his political past and Baath links, and more such protests are probable.

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