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Policy easing to bring Baathists into new Iraq

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

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Baath Party
Saddam Hussein
Paul Bremer

(CNN) -- The White House confirmed Thursday that the administration is moving to change a postwar policy that blocked members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from Iraqi government and military positions.

The sweeping ban was put in place by civilian administrator Paul Bremer, but he now wants to change the policy as part of an effort to convince Sunnis, who dominate the party, that they are welcome members of the postwar political transition in Iraq.

There also have been complaints that the ban has kept teachers, engineers, well-trained technocrats and experienced military officers out of the difficult postwar transition.

Saddam headed the Baath Party in Iraq for decades, and its members were allowed educational opportunities and to hold key posts.

In Baghdad, Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor acknowledged the ban "sometimes excludes innocent, capable people who were Baathists in name only from playing a role in reconstructing Iraq.

"Those are the sorts of people for which there was a process built in to allow exceptions, to allow appeals, but the exceptions and appeals process doesn't do anybody any good if it is not expeditious," Senor said.

"We are reviewing the policy to see if we can better balance the expertise and experience," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters on Air Force One as President Bush traveled to Maine for an Earth Day event.

The coalition calls the process of removing the pro-Saddam Baathists' influence on Iraq "de-Baathification."

Senor said: "What we are looking at now is a way to ... make revisions to the implementation process so the implementation process going forward reflects the original intention of the policy ... in terms of who is de-Baathified, what the criteria is, that policy remains intact."

Saying "part of Iraq freeing itself from its past is getting de-Baathification right," Senor noted there have been complaints that the appeals process for people blocked from qualifying for posts because of alleged Baathist affiliation "is sometimes slower in implementation that it was originally designed."

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, speaking at a news conference with Senor, said that as the Iraqi military grows, it will need experienced high-ranking officers, and there are many senior officers who can meet all of the de-Baathification criteria.

"You're going to need generals. You're going to need full colonels. You're going to need senior officers to command and control those organizations. Obviously, that is not a skill level that you can get in a series of weeks," Kimmitt said.

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