Iraq Opens Its Army To Hussein Loyalists

Iraq Opens Its Army To Hussein Loyalists
December 17th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraq Opens Its Army To Hussein Loyalists

Iraq Opens Its Army To Hussein Loyalists
Los Angeles Times
December 17, 2006
Pg. 1

The government will let Baathists 'whose hands are not stained with blood' reenlist.
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Times Staff Writer
BAGHDAD Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government reached out to former members of Saddam Hussein's regime Saturday, inviting them to claim government pensions and rejoin the army in a gesture meant to calm the country's sectarian passions.
"The Iraqi army opens its doors to officers and soldiers from the former army who wish to serve the country," Maliki said at a national reconciliation conference of politicians and sectarian leaders in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
Maliki has been under increasing U.S. pressure to improve security forces. But, exposing fissures that have plagued his struggling government as the country descended into civil war, several Shiite and Sunni Arab groups rejected the proposal, saying it would reward insurgents and stalwarts of Hussein's regime.
After the Iraqi president was ousted in 2003, the interim administration led by L. Paul Bremer III disbanded the army in a purge of supporters of the Sunni-dominated regime. But the move has been criticized as one of the most critical missteps in the occupation, for sending disgruntled and jobless members of Hussein's Baath Party into the ranks of the insurgents.
Government officials have long suggested embracing some former Baathists. Maliki said Saturday that the plan would not include those who had killed Iraqi civilians.
Supporters of the plan said it not only would dispel simmering Sunni unrest by giving the once-powerful sect a positive role in Iraqi society, but also would raise the skill level of the army, which has been criticized for its dependence on U.S. forces.
The Bush administration said it was encouraged by Maliki's remarks, and urged the parties at the conference to "chart a course that brings stability and security to a unified and democratic Iraq," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Bush discussed plans for the conference with Maliki via secure video Friday. The prime minister talked about providing greater security, particularly in Baghdad, "by going after all sources of violence, including insurgents and militias," Johndroe said.
Maliki also expressed a growing desire for more political leaders to "come together for the common objective of stabilizing Iraq and promoting the rule of law," Johndroe said.
Maliki said Saturday that some former Baath Party leaders were still not welcome but that parliament should review laws concerning the rank and file to ensure that they "embody the principle of forgiveness."
"We draw a distinction between Baathists whose hands are not stained with blood and those who committed the most heinous crimes against Iraqis and still continue to kill innocent people," Maliki said.
Many Sunni politicians greeted the announcement with enthusiasm.
"We should help those who initiated this process. It is a step toward success," said Nasir Ani, a parliament member on the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party slate. He said he would urge former army officers to apply for military jobs so "we can make use of their expertise."
Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman said the announcement was a positive step and that he expected Maliki to issue a broader amnesty for former Baathists.
"De-Baathification has been an obstacle to reconciliation from the start, mainly because it was applied by politicians, not by the judiciary," and the announcement "will anger some Shiite people, but it will serve the reconciliation process and lower the violence," Othman said.
Some supporters of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party withdrew from the conference, releasing a statement saying the government had turned a deaf ear to their concerns.
"Despite our calls for reconciliation, we are still being subjected to daily assassinations, attacks and arrests," it said.
Shiites loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr attended, but denounced the possible return of Baathists to the government.
Leaders of the hard-line Sunni Muslim Scholars Assn. condemned the conference, releasing a statement that called it "a card played by Maliki in order to save Bush's face." Salih Mutlaq of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni Arab slate that includes former Baathists, said in a statement that the group would boycott the conference until the government dissolved sectarian militias, released detainees and restored former officials to their jobs.
Those at the conference, including former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, said they expected dissenters to rejoin negotiations soon.
Chalabi, once a proponent of de-Baathification, said he supported the plan, which he said would help end sectarian violence. "The prime minister put out his hand to all those who do not have blood on their hands," Chalabi said.
He said he expected key Baathist leaders to eventually embrace the proposals. Once they do and the army is beefed up, he said, "the militias will naturally deteriorate."
Maliki's national security advisor, Mowaffak Rubaie, agreed, saying, "I think it's going to be a good contribution to reducing violence in the streets."
Iraqi and U.S. troops have staged numerous raids recently to root out insurgent and militia leaders, particularly in the capital.
Early Saturday, Iraqi soldiers led a raid with American support in Baghdad's Sadr City, a Shiite neighborhood where deadly car bombings last month killed at least 215 people. Soldiers traded fire with militants about 3:30 a.m., killing one, according to a military statement.
Witnesses said a civilian was also killed as U.S. helicopters bombed a house, but the military said there were no civilian casualties. Soldiers detained six militants, including one the military said was the leader of a 100-member terrorist cell responsible for illegal checkpoints, rocket attacks, roadside bombs, kidnappings and killings.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, 53 bodies were found shot execution-style, including 15 recovered in the beleaguered Sunni neighborhood of Ghazaliya. At least 11 people died in other violence across the country Saturday.
Times staff writers Suhail Ahmad in Baghdad and Faye Fiore in Washington and special correspondents in Baghdad, Mosul, Baqubah, Basra and Hilla contributed to this report.

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