Prague, 14 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- About 1.5 million of the 25 million Iraqis belonged to the Ba'ath Party before Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled. But only about 50,000 were so-called "full" members, positioned in the upper grades of the party hierarchy.
Efforts to purge Ba'ath Party members from influential positions -- a process called "de-Ba'athification" -- began last spring, with the formal banning of the party and the exclusion of party members from high-level government positions.
New policies announced this week go further and are more selective. Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, who heads the de-Ba'athification committee, explained why de-Ba'athification is needed. "I think that the restoration of life, the revitalization of the economy and the restoration of security are reliant on the eradication of the Ba'ath Party, because, as it was proved recently from the documents seized with Saddam Hussein, more than ninety percent of the acts of terrorism, violence and economic sabotage are masterminded by senior Ba'ath Party officials," Chalabi said.
The new measures provide for expanded purges from government institutions to include lower levels of the Ba'ath hierarchy and may affect from 15,000 to 30,000 people. Many of the dismissed individuals will be able to appeal the decision.
"Overall, the policy is a positive one. I used the example of postwar Nazi Germany. But I think, perhaps, some more accurate analogy might be the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa."
In addition, the three top jobs in any government department or ministry will be out of reach for former Ba'ath officials. Any other party members known to have abused Iraqis will be dismissed regardless of rank.
Chalabi said similar measures applying to the private sector and professional associations will be announced shortly. He said the U.S.-appointed Governing Council would also pass a law to return property that was confiscated or illegally possessed under the previous regime.
Daniel Neep is the head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies in London. He says he believes the policy of de-Ba'athification hasn't gotten much popular support so far because earlier efforts coincided with dismantling the Iraqi army. That move left thousands of former soldiers unemployed overnight.
Neep pointed out that party membership was often a prerequisite for career advancement in Iraq and did not strictly reflect people's ideological views. He says the new policy may meet with more support because it appears fairer and guided by Iraqis. "The new policy which is being introduced is apparently being done so at the insistence of the Iraqi Governing Council," he said. "It is a more 'nuanced' policy which is now being introduced, which will look at the record of individual members of the Ba'ath Party and assess whether or not they were involved in any of the human rights abuses and in the crimes which the regime was so well known as having committed."
He added: "Overall, the policy is a positive one. I used the example of postwar Nazi Germany. But I think, perhaps, some more accurate analogy might be the Truth and Reconciliation committee in South Africa. I think the mood is towards a more inclusive approach. And so, any options given to people that allow things to move on -- I think that's a positive sign."
One danger, Neep says, is the proliferation of purges beyond the public sector. He says that Ba'ath Party members too must support their families -- something they won't be able to do if they cannot find work. "I do wonder where these people are supposed to go if they are not allowed not only to operate in a state sector but also to operate in a private sector. How are these people to support their families? And surely, if they are not allowed to rebuild a life for themselves in some arena, surely they are likely to lose any stake at all in reestablishing the stability of Iraq," Neep said.
Neep says one of the most important aspects of the new policies is that the Iraqi Governing Council -- and not the United States or other foreigners -- appears to be leading them.