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THE WORLD

Council Moves to Further 'De-Baathify' Iraq

Tougher policy aims to rid the government of former members of Hussein's political party.

September 17, 2003|Alissa J. Rubin and Mark Fineman | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — A leading member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Ahmad Chalabi, made a bid Tuesday to assert the council's independence from the American-led coalition, with his spokesman announcing a new and tougher policy for ridding the Iraqi government of former Baath Party members.

Chalabi, a longtime exile flown into Iraq by the U.S. military in April, appeared to be trying to distance himself from his patrons and raise his profile with Iraqis as the jockeying for power in the country begins in earnest.

U.S. officials hope elections for a permanent government can be held within a year. Several of the higher-profile members of the temporary governing body, including Chalabi, are expected to run for office.

Chalabi is the current president of the council, a position that rotates every month among the body's 25 members.

The interim government, whose members were appointed in July after weeks of discussion with the U.S.-led coalition, is also preparing to play a role in the United Nations debate over a new resolution for the reconstruction of Iraq, set to start next week. The council will send four people to the meeting, including Chalabi and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

At a Baghdad news conference, Chalabi spokesman Entifahd Qanbar announced two council directives to prevent the government from including any former members of ex-President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party -- moves that he said go beyond those previously announced by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. Chalabi has scheduled his own news conference today in Baghdad.

Under the first directive, which the council formally issued Sunday, any higher-level party members still in their jobs must quit immediately -- a provision similar to the order issued in May by L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. administrator of the authority, which is estimated to have affected tens of thousands of Iraqis.

However, in this case, the several dozen exceptions to the rule approved by Bremer -- well under 50 earlier this summer -- would be nullified, Qanbar said.

The second Governing Council directive bans Iraqis from leadership positions in the new government if they ever worked as a director-general or higher in a state-owned company, as a town director, or as an advisor in Hussein's regime.

The new rules would "have more depth and [affect] more people" than Bremer's order, Qanbar said. He noted that criminals as well as cronies of Hussein would also be barred from office. Anyone who loses his job could appeal to a recently created Iraqi council committee on "de-Baathification."

The coalition authority seemed unaware of the council's plan to toughen Bremer's order Tuesday, but Bremer has said from the time he first issued it that the Iraqis would ultimately decide how to implement it.

"We have said all along that de-Baathification should be the province of the Iraqis. They are the most qualified to make decisions about it," said a senior advisor to Bremer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In discussing the reason Iraq is sending its own delegation to the United Nations, Qanbar said, "It's a demonstration of sovereignty, that there is an Iraqi government coming."

He went on to praise the positions of France, Germany and Russia. France, in particular, is pushing to allow Iraq to form an independent government early next year -- far more rapidly than the United States believes is possible.

"There are many countries who share some positive stance, positive ideas, such as France, Germany, Russia, they're all leaning toward the sovereignty of Iraq," Qanbar said.

Chalabi, he said, would meet with President Bush when he visits the United States in coming weeks.

The leaders of Britain, Germany and France will hold an informal meeting Saturday in Berlin to discuss Iraq and other foreign policy issues, officials said Tuesday.

The mini-summit will bring together British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Bush administration's strongest partner on Iraq, and two of the leading critics of the war: French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Like the Bush administration, Blair hopes to convince the French and Germans to approve a proposed U.N. resolution to increase international participation in Iraq's reconstruction while leaving military and civilian power in U.S. hands. But the French, in particular, insist that the U.S. must speedily hand power over to Iraqi civilians and give the U.N. a greater role in Iraq.

Not all Iraqi Governing Council members agree with a swift timetable. In an interview with The Times, Zebari said Tuesday that the country was far from ready to hold elections early next year and that the general timetable that had been outlined by Bremer was the one the council was likely to try to follow. Under that framework, there would be elections sometime in the next 12 to 15 months, Zebari said.

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