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Man Who May Lead Iraq Eyes Ex-Baathists

Jafari Says He Would 'Purify' Government of Many From Former Ruling Party

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 18, 2005; Page A18

BAGHDAD, Feb. 17 -- As elections officials certified his Shiite Muslim coalition's majority in Iraq's new National Assembly on Thursday, the leading candidate for prime minister said he was preparing plans to "purify the state's institutions" of former Saddam Hussein loyalists who had committed crimes.

Ibrahim Jafari, currently Iraq's interim vice president, said he wanted to tighten rules on dealing with former members of Hussein's Baath Party -- one of the most divisive issues the new government will face.

Farid Ayar, right, a spokesman for the electoral commission, and Ibrahim Jafari, second from right and the top candidate for premier, attend a news conference announcing the results of the elections, which took place Jan. 30. (Faleh Kheiber -- Reuters)

In an interview, Jafari said he was committed to ridding the government of anyone who profited as a Baath official or carried out the oppressive policies of a party that he said "committed crimes against the Iraqis more than what Hitler or Mussolini did."

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has urged restraint in purging former Baathists, warning of potential unrest. Jafari, acknowledging that many Iraqis were compelled to join the party to hold government jobs or enter government schools, said the policy would forgive "the majority of Baathists who did not commit crimes" and allow them to resume work in the army or civil service.

The Iraqi elections commission confirmed Thursday that Jafari's Shiite-led coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, would have 140 seats in the 275-member parliament. The alliance won 48 percent of the vote in the Jan. 30 election, but the complex formula for distributing the seats of parties that failed to gain enough votes to enter parliament gave the alliance a slim majority.

A coalition of ethnic Kurdish parties that attracted the second-largest vote total will have 75 seats, followed by Allawi's slate, with 40 seats. The remaining 20 seats were scattered among nine parties.

The National Assembly is required to write a constitution for Iraq, submit it to a referendum in October and set up elections for a constitutional government in December.

Carlos Valenzuela, the U.N. elections expert on the elections commission, said last month's vote, while imperfect, was "an extremely good election."

The parties with the most seats have been bargaining for days to allocate top government and cabinet posts. Jafari said that the Kurdish parties had sought to open the issue of restoring Kirkuk -- an oil-rich northern city divided among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens -- to Kurdish control but that his coalition had not agreed to consider the issue.

He said that the Shiites had "no problem" with the Kurds' demand to install one of the leaders, Jalal Talabani, as president and that he hoped one of the Sunnis invited into the government would take the job of assembly speaker.

Jafari insisted that the new government would include all ethnic parties, including Sunnis who boycotted the election. He said his party, Dawa, had tempered its desire for an Islamic government to accommodate secular and non-Muslim Iraqis.

"Every country has its own character," he said. "Not all Iraqis are Muslims. Not all Muslims are Shia. Not all Shia are Islamic. We have to have a system that is open to all components of society."

Though the Dawa party has long advocated a religious government, Jafari insisted it did "not aim to establish an Islamic state to apply the Islamic sharia," or law. Instead, it would establish a government "respecting human rights and applying justice and respecting the rights of women."

He was less conciliatory about the issue of dealing with former Baath Party members, estimated to number between 1 million and 2.5 million. Jafari fled Iraq after Hussein carried out a purge that executed thousands of Dawa members and their families.

When Hussein fell, the U.S. administrator, L. Paul Bremer, dismissed the Iraqi army and all civil servants above the bottom rung of the Baath Party. But Allawi and others argue that Bremer's move crippled Iraq's government and security systems; Allawi has been rehiring Baathists during his eight months in office.

Jafari said that "the new appointments and those who were dismissed will be looked over" on the same basis: Those who committed crimes would be barred, those who did not would be allowed to keep their jobs.

"There are no disagreements concerning the Baathists who committed crimes and stole the money of the people, and also who had high ranks in the state," he said.

Staff writer Jackie Spinner contributed to this report.

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