A day after Saddam Hussein was sentenced to hang, the country’s Shiite-dominated government declared a major concession to his Sunni Muslim backers that could see thousands of purged Baath Party members reinstated to their jobs.
The Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification has prepared a draft law with the amendments and will soon send it to parliament for ratification, the commission’s executive director, Ali al-Lami told The Associated Press Monday.
“We decided to make the announcement after the Saddam verdict so that the de-Baathification commission would not be accused of bias,” al-Lami said.
Iraq’s appeals court was expected to rule on the verdict and sentence by mid-January, the chief prosecutor said Monday. Should the court uphold the death penalty, the Associated Press has learned that Iraq’s three-man presidential council agreed previously not to block Saddam’s hanging, which must be carried out within 30 days.
The announcement came as a round-the clock curfew imposed for the Saddam verdict was gradually easing Monday in Baghdad, with pedestrians allowed back on the streets as a surge in violence expected after the court’s decision did not materialize.
Vehicle traffic in Baghdad would be permitted beginning at 6:00 a.m. Tuesday, according to police Lt. Mohammed Khayoun and an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
A U.S. helicopter also crashed north of the Iraqi capital on Monday, killing two American soldiers on board, and two Marines and a soldier were killed in fighting in the country’s restive Anbar province.
The military said no gunfire was reported in the area at the time of the helicopter crash. The incident occurred in Salahuddin province, which includes Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and also was under curfew.
With the helicopter crash and the Anbar deaths, the number of U.S. troops killed this month in Iraq rose to 18 and follow a particularly violent month for the American military in Iraq, which saw 105 deaths in October.
Names and numbers
The amendments are in harmony with a 24-point national reconciliation plan that was announced in June by the Shiite prime minister in which he called for reviewing the de-Baathification program, al-Lami said. Al-Maliki’s reconciliation plan aims to end an insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis since the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Before the amendments were drawn up, the organization listed names of 10,302 senior Baath Party members who were to be fired, but the new proposed law includes only 1,500 names, al-Lami said.
Those who will lose their jobs will get retirement pensions, he said, adding that 7,688 have been fired since the organization was established in January 2004.
Members of Saddam’s elite dissolved security agencies as well as members of the paramilitary Saddam’s Fedayeen that were run by the former president’s late son, Odai, were not under the scrutiny of the commission but were handled by the prime minister’s office, al-Lami said.
Many Sunni Arabs here say the de-Baathification process was aimed at removing members of their minority sect — which ruled Iraq for decades until the fall of Saddam — from state institutions. Al-Lami strongly denied such accusations saying that more Baathists from the predominantly Shiite southern Iraq lost their jobs than in Sunni areas in the center.
The United States dissolved and banned the formerly ruling Baath party in May 2003, a month after toppling Saddam, but later softened its stance, inviting former high-level officers from the disbanded military to join the security forces. The former top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, also allowed thousands of teachers who were Baathists to return to work.
Since it was founded, the de-Baathification committee vetted thousands of former Baathists who returned to work while others who proved to be senior Baath Party members were sacked.
In another development, the uncle of a U.S. soldier kidnapped last month in Baghdad said Monday he believed his nephew’s abductors belong to a “well organized” rogue cell from the Shiite Mahdi Army militia of the anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Entifadh Qanbar, the uncle, said he had received a $250,000-ransom demand from the kidnappers, through an intermediary. He had in turn demanded proof that his nephew was alive and well before entering negotiations.
The U.S. military said last week that that there was “an ongoing dialogue” to win the release of Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old reserve soldier from Ann Arbor, Mich. Al-Taayie was visiting his Iraqi wife when he was handcuffed and taken away by gunmen during a visit to the woman’s family.
U.S. officials, like Qanbar, said there had been no news of the missing soldier.
“We continue to conduct operations based on actionable intelligence to find our soldier,” Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Monday. “His safe return is obviously a top priority.”
Qanbar, a former spokesman for the National Congress Party of senior Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi, said he had contact with the kidnappers through an intermediary in Baghdad, but had not heard from them since Saturday when he demanded that he be shown proof that al-Taayie was alive.
“I want to see him next to the same day newspaper or in a video. I want him to answer certain questions. Any proof that he is still alive,” Qanbar told The Associated Press by telephone from Amman, in neighboring Jordan.
Qanbar said he believed a man he identified as Majid al-Qais Omran, also known by his nickname Abu Rami, is responsible for the kidnapping and said he believed he was the leader of an experienced gang.
“It is a very capable gang with a great deal of resources,” said Qanbar, “They identified themselves as Mahdi Army members, but I believe they belong to a breakaway cell of the Mahdi Army. Their conduct suggest they have experience in this line of work.”
The soldier’s wife and two of her siblings have been taken by American troops to the Green Zone, where they were being kept for their safety.
The military was withholding the names of the latest fatalities pending notification of their families, but it identified both Marines as having been assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5. A brief statement from the military said one Marine died on Saturday from wounds received in combat, while the other was wounded in fighting on Saturday and died Monday.
The statement said the soldier had been assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and died on Monday from wounds received in combat. The statement didn’t say when he was wounded.
The relentless death toll continued among Iraqis as well. Despite the curfew, the bodies of 50 murder victims were discovered Sunday, the bulk of them in Baghdad, police said. Mortars also slammed into a Sunni neighborhood in northern Baghdad on Monday, although no damage or casualties were reported.