Iraqis struggle over Baath purge
A US campaign to eliminate Baath Party influence in Iraq is being criticized for inflexibility.
When it comes to assessing the US campaign to cleanse Iraq of Saddam Hussein loyalists, one need look no further than an assistant's desk at Baghdad University.Skip to next paragraph
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Piled two feet high are petitions from students and faculty alike, appealing to US officials for favorite professors to be exempt from a decree that fires all ranking Baath Party members.
This heavy pile is bursting the sides of a thick plastic shopping bag; the handles have ripped under the weight. And these are just a few of the hundreds of petitions that have been submitted - from universities only - that illustrate the difficulties of scrubbing Iraq clean of the old regime.
While the surge of guerrilla attacks against coalition forces grab headlines - including the death of six British military policemen in southern Iraq on Tuesday - real change in Iraq is being engineered here, at government institutions.
The result so far is a tension among Iraqis about a Draconian decree, that paints the problem of de-Baathification in black and white - while in fact, many Iraqis say, it should be shades of gray.
"It's not a witch hunt. It's a very careful process - as careful as we can make it in this demanding situation," says Andrew Erdmann, a US State Department policymaker who is the top American appointed to the higher education ministry of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).
He is swamped with issues emerging at university campuses across Iraq, and trying to focus on meeting emergency needs to complete an extended school year by the end of July. That means fans, air conditioners - US troops delivered a consignment to the Technical College Wednesday - and even printing examination booklets.
Jubilant scenes as students sit for class portraits, Mr. Erdmann says, are "tangible symbols that students feel that their life is progressing, that there is something beyond."
But de-Baathification is complicating the picture. According to his own proclamation on May 16, only the American chief of the occupation authority in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, can approve individual exemptions. The decree purges the top four ranks of the Baath Party. Party apparatchiks with critical skills, who "demonstrated" that they were not committed to the Baath Party under Mr. Hussein would be most likely candidates.
"Some people stepped forward to protect people. Some did not. Those things matter," says Erdmann. There are exceptions, though "the idea that you became a senior party member by accident - it usually doesn't happen."
But some say it did happen to Hussam al-Rawi, a former ranking Baath Party member and British-educated former head of the architecture department, who now must "volunteer" to finish the year, until his status is resolved. At least one fellow professor says Mr. Rawi came to her aid in the past, against an unscrupulous Baathist who deliberately misinterpreted her work, to get her into trouble.
"They did this [de-Baathification] without considering who were good people, and who were bad people," says Janon Kadhim, an architecture professor who says that Rawi "protected" her reputation.
"This is not an American way of working," says Rawi, who lived in Britian for 16 years and was elected as a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. "A lot of skilled workers are out of jobs now," Rawi says. Mr. Bremer has "made enemies of millions of people."