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Iraq: De-Ba'athification Commission Backs Away From Tribunal Purge

Judge al-Juhi (left) received President Talibani's support this week The Iraqi de-Ba'athification commission appeared to back away from its attempts at purging more members of the Iraqi Special Tribunal this week after nine judges senior staff members of the tribunal were fired on the grounds that they were former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party. Nineteen other tribunal judges had been threatened with dismissal by the commission headed by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi.

Sources close to the tribunal claimed that U.S. officials have grown frustrated with what they interpret as disruptions to the court's work, and one official reportedly threatened to take the former regime's cases to The Hague if the tribunal's work was further disrupted by the de-Ba'athification commission.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with Iraqi tribunal judge Ra'id al-Juhi on 28 July and voiced his support for the tribunal's work in trying former members of the Hussein regime, saying: "I would like to express my full backing and support to the interrogation panel. I will do my best to ensure that they will be respected by the other parties in the Iraqi government, particularly the de-Ba'athification commission, for the services they are offering" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2005).

Had the commission succeeded in removing all 28 members it identified as Ba'athists on the tribunal, the work of the tribunal would have likely been set back months, if not years. The judges targeted included the chief investigative judge, Ra'id al-Juhi, as well as the head of the witness-protection program and the head of the tribunal, "The New York Times" reporter John Burns told U.S.-based National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview broadcast on 20 July. The 400-member tribunal is staffed by about 65 judges and prosecutors.

Chalabi's spokesman Entifadh Qanbar told RFE/RL on 27 July that there is currently no attempt to expel any of the judges. "We don't want to do that because we don't want to delay the process [of the tribunal's work]," Qanbar said. "There are investigations, however, and these investigations are in regard to all members of the Iraqi state, including this court. These are not for political purposes or political vendettas as some people [think]."

Asked about specific allegations that the tribunal's investigative judge Ra'id al-Juhi was a Ba'ath Party member, Qanbar said: "I don't have detailed [or] specific information on these investigations -- especially because these investigations [are held to] very high scrutiny and very intensive investigations. And the people doing these investigations, they don't reveal what they are investigating. These things are kept in very safe places, not out for leakage, so that they can't be used to haunt people."
All of the judges on the tribunal underwent an extensive vetting process before their appointment.

While the dismissals would be legal according to Article 33 of Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order No. 48 that established the de-Ba'athification commission, they would severely disrupt the work of the tribunal, which intends to begin trying former regime members as early as next month. The article states: "No officer, prosecutor, investigative judge, judge, or other personnel of the tribunal shall have been a member of the Ba'ath Party."

Burns told NPR that all of the judges on the tribunal attended Iraqi universities where the condition for admission to study was membership in the Ba'ath Party.

Moreover, all of the judges on the tribunal underwent an extensive vetting process before their appointment. Former tribunal administrator Salem Chalabi told in a 15 August 2004 e-mail interview: "I and other Governing Council members and deputies reviewed their backgrounds and vetted them. We consulted closely with the Council of Judges, which has extensive records on judges and judicial nominees. In cases where retired judges applied, we reviewed their history with the Council of Judges and also consulted their records in the bar association."

It appears however, that some Ba'athists with ties to the regime may have made it onto the commission. Zakia Hakki, a Justice Ministry adviser, said that al-Juhi and other tribunal officials met with politicians informally in mid-July to request three changes to the tribunal's mandate that would allow tribunal judges who slipped through the vetting process to be dismissed, reported on 19 July. Al-Juhi and others were reportedly concerned about possible procedural slipups foiling Hussein's prosecution, Hakki added. One judge in particular -- a former provincial governor -- was reportedly under suspicion for his ties to the former regime, the website reported.

The Chalabi-led campaign to dismiss tribunal staffers has been interpreted by some as revenge against the body following the removal of Chalabi's nephew, former tribunal executive director Salem Chalabi, from his position by interim President Iyad Allawi. Salem Chalabi was dismissed following the issue of an arrest warrant against him in early August 2004 for his alleged role in the assassination of a senior Finance Ministry official (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 August 2004). A separate arrest warrant was issued at the same time for Ahmad Chalabi on counterfeiting charges. The charges against both men were later dropped.
It appears that some Ba'athists with ties to the regime may have made it onto the commission.

Ahmad Chalabi's party, the Iraqi National Congress, issued a statement on 27 July stating that Chalabi "holds the view that all laws in Iraq must be obeyed and there must be no exceptions to this principle." The statement criticized "The New York Times" for reports alleging that Chalabi was carrying out a vendetta against individual judges and seeking to compromise the judicial system for political advantage. "These charges are false and unfounded and unsubstantiated since they are made on the bases of anonymous sources," the statement said, adding that "The New York Times" "continues to further this pernicious agenda in casting doubts on the constitutional process in Iraq." The statement also accused the newspaper of being "colored by [its] antiwar position."