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From 'de-Baathification' to 're-Baathification'?

From Wolf Blitzer
CNN


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Iraq
Baath Party

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- "The remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime know they have no future in a free Iraq," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday, restating the U.S. stance even as coalition officials in Baghdad confirmed that some of Saddam's former Baath Party loyalists may be allowed to take back their old jobs.

It's seen as a potentially significant change in postwar strategy.

Civilian administrator Paul Bremer now wants to allow former Baath Party members to serve in the Iraqi military and government establishment.

"I think Ambassador Bremer has probably heard from thousands of Iraqis since he has been here on the issue of 'de-Baathification'," coalition spokesman Dan Senor said Thursday.

Until now, those Baathists -- most of whom are minority Sunnis -- had been banned as part of a postwar "de-Baathification" policy designed to remove any lingering influence of Saddam Hussein's most loyal supporters.

There also have been complaints that the ban has kept teachers, engineers, well-trained technocrats and experienced military officers out of the difficult postwar transition.

"We are working to try to develop an equitable solution to address the widely divergent activities of former Baathist party members," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday.

In other words, some former Baath Party members may be allowed to teach in the schools, run the country's infrastructure, move along the government's bureaucracy, and serve in the military -- after careful screening.

"Sooner or later, there would come a time when we need senior officers, and there are many senior officers remaining from this country, who can meet all the criteria established in the 'de-Batthification' policy and still have a significant contribution to offer the nation of Iraq in the defense structure," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.

He says a handful of former Saddam generals may even be allowed to resume their military careers.

Some analysts tell CNN's national security correspondent David Ensor that easing the ban on the Baathists won't have a great impact. They note that only the top echelons of Saddam's party have been excluded from hiring.

Others suggest the move is aimed more at easing the pain of Iraq's Sunni


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