I have agreed with Sistani on just about everything except his fundamentalist religious beliefs. I do not agree with him on this. Former Baathists without blood on their hands should be allowed to work for the Iraqi government.
Shiite Cleric Opposes U.S. Plan to Permit Former Baath Party Members to Join Government
By EDWARD WONG
BAGHDAD, April 2 — The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq has rejected an American-backed proposal to allow thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to government service, an aide to the cleric said Monday.
The rejection by the cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, appears certain to fuel hostility between the majority Shiites and the former ruling Sunni Arabs, since many Sunni Arabs say they were unfairly purged from the government in the clampdown on the Baath Party.
The Americans say a partial reversal of the de-Baathification process, which began in 2003, is one of the most crucial steps the Iraqi government can take in wooing back disaffected Sunni Arabs and draining the Sunni-led insurgency of its zealotry. The White House has repeatedly told the Iraqi government that the process must be changed.
The latest proposal was announced by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani on March 26 at the strong urging of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the senior American envoy to Iraq, who left his job the same day. American officials oversaw the drafting of the proposal.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and candidate for president who advocates a troop increase in Iraq, said in an upbeat news conference here on Sunday that the Iraqis had demonstrated political progress by committing to revising the de-Baathification law.
But an aide to Ayatollah Sistani said Monday that there was a “general feeling of rejection” over the proposal.
Ayatollah Sistani, who lives in the holy city of Najaf, generally does not issue proclamations himself, preferring to make his edicts known through his aides or other Iraqi officials. His word is considered sacrosanct not only among the Shiites in Iraq but also among those throughout the world, so his rejection of the draft law means it has virtually no chance of passage.
The comments from the ayatollah’s office came a day after he met with Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite and head of the de-Baathification commission, who has opposed any serious attempt to roll back the purging of former Baathists. After the meeting on Sunday, Mr. Chalabi said at a news conference that Ayatollah Sistani was aware of the law and that he had told Mr. Chalabi that it “would not be the final one and there would be other drafts.”
The Bush administration urged the Iraqi government to follow through with the revision of the law. A senior official said Monday that he hoped that Mr. Maliki would work with Ayatollah Sistani to figure out a way to differentiate between Saddam Hussein loyalists and lower-level Baath Party functionaries. “Among the political benchmarks which the Iraqis themselves have set, this is among the most difficult,” the official said.
News of the rejection drew harsh criticism from Sunni Arab leaders on Monday.
“In my opinion, our country is now one led by the clerics, and the new political process in Iraq is made to allow those clerics and religious parties to govern Iraq,” said Salim Abdullah, a legislator from the main Sunni Arab bloc in Parliament. “The Iraqis will feel the consequences of that.”
Officials from the secular party of Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, also expressed profound disappointment. Ibrahim al-Janabi, a legislator and senior aide to Mr. Allawi, said Monday that the lobbying of Ayatollah Sistani by Shiites like Mr. Chalabi “is the weapon of losers.”
“When they feel they might lose out, they go to the ayatollahs to get support to push through their goals,” he said.
The upheaval over the draft law transpired on a day of fiery violence in Iraq. At least 59 Iraqis were killed or discovered dead in various attacks, and at least three American soldiers and a British soldier were killed in four separate attacks on Sunday and Monday, military officials said Monday.
The deadliest assault on Monday took place in Kirkuk, where a suicide truck bomb exploded at a police station next to a primary school, killing at least 12 Iraqis and one American soldier, and wounding at least 200 others, police officials and the American military said. Dozens of wounded children could be seen in the front yard of the local hospital, awaiting treatment.
The de-Baathification commission led by Mr. Chalabi was put in place by L. Paul Bremer III, the American proconsul who governed Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004. Mr. Bremer’s very first order was to purge former Baathists from government, a task that Mr. Chalabi’s commission passionately carried out. Mr. Bremer also disbanded the Iraqi Army, which, along with the de-Baathification order, has been widely criticized as fueling the insurgency.
But before handing over power in 2004, Mr. Bremer scaled back some of the de-Baathification policy in an effort to bring back teachers, scientists and others with technical expertise, as well as former army officers who could help rebuild Iraq’s moribund security forces.
Many Sunni Arabs say the reversal has to happen on a much wider scale. In a farewell interview, Mr. Khalilzad said militant Sunnis had pointed to a rollback of de-Baathification as a necessary condition for them to lay down arms.
The proposal announced last week, which was overseen by Mr. Khalilzad, offers relatively generous terms. It decreed that all former Baathists would be able to collect their pensions and that thousands more would be allowed to hold government jobs. The law would also set a three-month time limit for Iraqi citizens to bring lawsuits against former Baathists.
Advisers to Mr. Maliki, a devout Shiite, said the prime minister had been skeptical that conservative Shiite leaders would support the measure. Before he took office, Mr. Maliki was one of the most vocal champions of the purging of former Baathists. Critics suggested that he might have made the announcement last week simply to appear to be offering an olive branch to Sunni Arabs.