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Baath Party Sent To Showers

Between 15,000 and 30,000 Baath Party officials will be banned entirely from any future Iraqi government, a senior U.S. official said Friday. He said the move will eliminate Saddam Hussein's party and "put a stake in its heart."

The official from the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the move would help Iraq move on from the legacy of Saddam's regime.

"The Baath Party in Iraq is finished," the official said. "We mean to be sure that by this process, we will put a stake in its heart."

In other developments:

  • L. Paul Bremer, the top American administrator in Iraq, says U.S. authorities will improve security by rounding up thousands of criminals turned loose in March by the old regime. He reported 300 arrests in the previous 48 hours.
  • Human rights groups and impatient Iraqis are at odds over mass graves. Villagers want to reclaim the remains of their loved ones as quickly as possible. But, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Iraq says "crucial evidence is getting lost" in the rush.
  • U.S. officials believe they recovered most of the $1 billion taken from Iraq's central bank by one of Saddam Hussein's sons before the regime's collapse. A total of $950 million were found by U.S.-led coalition troops in 191 boxes hidden in government palaces throughout Baghdad, U.S. Treasury officials said Thursday.
  • Lebanon's Central Bank has frozen millions of dollars in other Iraqi assets but will return them only after a "legitimate" government is formed in Baghdad, bank Governor Riyadh Salameh said Friday.
  • Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who said he has accepted a position as a senior policy adviser to Iraq's Interior Ministry. A former undercover narcotics detective, Kerik led the New York police force through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
  • Seeking a vote soon on its postwar plan, the United States has revised its U.N. draft resolution — but did not significantly change two key concerns of many council members — the limited U.N. role and powerful position of the United States and Britain as occupying powers.

    The United States handed the nine-page draft to council experts at the start of a meeting Thursday. The experts agreed to meet again on Friday.

    "There are some things that are positive," said Fayssal Mekdad, the deputy U.N. ambassador of Syria, also a Security Council member. "But the most sensitive issues are still here."

    The U.S. also faces resistance over its plan for ending sanctions. Some countries, like France, merely want the sanctions lifted until inspectors can verify that Iraq is free of weapons on mass destruction.

    The U.S. justified war on the grounds that Iraq had large stockpiles of illegal arms. Aside from two possible mobile bioweapons labs, no banned weapons have been reported found.

    German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder agreed Friday that sanctions against Iraq "make no sense." Secretary of State Colin Powell, at a joint news conference after a half-hour meeting at Schroeder's office, said: "I was pleased with the chancellor's commitment to lift the sanctions entirely."

    They took no questions, however, and both described their talks as candid, implying some disagreements. So it was not immediately clear whether Germany no longer supported only a suspension of the sanctions.

    Powell, meanwhile, raised the possibility Thursday of suspending the sanctions, but quickly backtracked and said the United States wants them lifted immediately and without conditions.

    The U.S.-British-Spanish resolution would also end U.N. control over the country's vast oil wealth and allow the United States to use the money for the country's reconstruction.

    The man picked to run Iraq's oil fields, former Shell CEO Philip J. Carroll, admitted to the Los Angeles Times that he may face conflicts because of his ties to the industry, but said he would try to avoid them.

    Reconstruction officials in Iraq are trying to get the country's ministries and civil service working again, and are struggling to make sure they purge Saddam sympathizers without gutting the entire bureaucracy.

    As many as 1.5 million of Iraq's 24 million people belonged to the Baath party under Saddam. But only about 25,000 to 50,000 were full-fledged members — the sort of elite targeted by U.S. officials. Many civil servants could obtain jobs only after making affiliations with the Baath Party.

    The official said exceptions would be made in the winnowing process and also said that all but 2,000 of the thousands in question had melted away and were not angling for roles in the new government.

    The reconstruction team's purging efforts, which the official said would begin Saturday, come nearly a week after U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's commander, told Iraqis that the Baath Party was dissolved.

    The ORHA official said Iraq's American overseers would comb through the deposed regime's records, interview suspected Baathists' co-workers and seek testimony to make sure that the government is free of the party's influence.

    The official acknowledged the problems such an approach would entail but said they were worth it.

    "The de-Baathification will entail some inefficiencies in the running of the government," the official said. "That's the price we're willing to pay in order to extirpate Baathism from Iraqi society."

    Any public displays supporting Saddam have also been banned by the U.S. occupying force, the official said, adding that rewards would be offered for the whereabouts of senior party officials.

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