msnbc.com news services
updated 4/23/2004 2:34:32 PM ET 2004-04-23T18:34:32

The top U.S. administrator in Iraq announced on Friday an easing of the ban on members of Saddam Hussein’s disbanded party, a move that could allow thousands of former Baathists to return to their positions in the military and government bureaucracy.

Some Iraqi leaders welcomed the change, saying the strong purge had been a mistake from the start and fueled the anti-U.S. insurgency. The policy change, however, could face opposition, particularly among Kurds and Shiites who were brutally suppressed by Saddam and welcomed the purge of his followers.

Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi said the shift was akin to putting Nazis back in charge of Germany. “This policy will create major problems in the transition to democracy, endanger any government put together by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and cause it to fall after June 30,” Chalabi said.

In an address on U.S.-run Al-Iraqiya television, administrator L. Paul Bremer announced that while eradicating the Baath Party was a good policy, its implementation needs overhauling.

He said more military officers who served in Saddam’s army but have clean records would be allowed to join the new army being constructed from scratch by the U.S.-led coalition.

14,000 teachers were fired
On Thursday, the Bush administration said it intended to permit thousands of Iraqis who swore allegiance to Saddam’s political machine to take themselves off the U.S. blacklist.

Only alleged criminals, expected to face trials, will remain automatically excluded along with the top four levels of Saddam’s Baath party and the three most senior levels of ministries of the fallen leader’s government, an official of the U.S.-led coalition had said Thursday from Baghdad.

But other Iraqis who have been banned, including 14,000 discharged school teachers, will get their jobs back if they can make the case that they were party members in name only, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In addition, the process of appealing disqualifications will be speeded up so Iraqis can get rulings more quickly, the official said.

Reaching out to ex-military officers
Also, Iraqis who served in Saddam’s army, including generals and other senior officers, are needed for the new Iraqi army and will be absorbed quickly — provided they are found not to have engaged in criminal activity, the official said.

Gen. John Abizaid, the head of Central Command, disclosed last week that the military was reaching out to former senior Iraqi army officers to help shore up the struggling Iraqi security services.

The policy of excluding Baathists was popular with some Iraqis, but Bremer also was receiving complaints that the appeals process was too slow and that too many people remained disqualified even for teaching jobs, the official said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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