Former Baathists May Return to Iraqi Government

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Thousands of Saddam Hussein's Sunni supporters from his former Baath party may be able to return to jobs in the current Iraqi government. The news comes just a day after the former dictator was sentenced to death.

In Iraq today, the country's Interior Ministry brought first ever charges of torture against members of the police. Iraq's police are said to have close ties to the Shiite death squads that have carried out daily abductions and killings in Baghdad and elsewhere. In the last 24 hours alone, at least ten bodies were found with gunshot wounds in Baghdad. We go now to NPR's Jamie Tarabay. And Jamie just briefly, what are the charges of torture related to?

JAMIE TARABAY: The 57 employees of the Interior Ministry have all been charged with human rights abuses for their roles in torturing hundreds of detainees that were placed in a detention center in a Baghdad prison known as Site 4, which American and Iraqi officials have toured in the past and complained about. I think it was a U.N. human rights report that described Site 4 as overcrowded, unsafe, and unhealthy for detainees in there, and that they'd suffered systematic physical and psychological abuse. The 57 employees of the Interior Ministry include 20 commissioned officers who go up in rank from lieutenant to major general, 20 noncommissioned officers, 17 police, and civilians.

MONTAGNE: Accusations about the police death squads and torture have been around for some time now. Why are these charges being brought now?

TARABAY: Well, because we have a new interior minister, really - Jawad al-Bolani, replaced by Bayan Jabr in June. Bayan Jabr was - before he was an interior minister was the head of an actual Shiite militia belonging to one of the biggest religious political parties in Iraq. He was widely accused of not only knowing about the abuse but allowing it to happen under his watch. There were three thousand people that the new interior minister fired from the ministry. A spokesman for the interior minister said that he's, you know he's only been in the job for four months now and they're going through their files one at a time, they're really making an effort to clean ranks.

MONTAGNE: Also there in Baghdad Jamie, Saddam Hussein was back in the courtroom and it's just two days since he was sentenced to hang in another case.

TARABAY: That's right, he's actually in court now for crimes against humanity in the military campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s. The verdict that he received in the Dujail case, on Sunday, related to the killing of 148 Shiites in 1982. That has automatically gone to appeal and the appeals judges can take as long as they need to consider the verdict. They can call new witnesses if they like, they can go through the whole process again. There is really no time limit, but once they have made a decision it needs to be upheld within thirty days of their announcing that. So even if Saddam is on trial for another case, or ten other cases - which the case may be - the sentence still has to be carried out. It's also worth bearing in mind that it could go the other way, they could decide to reduce the sentence. So we're still a long way from knowing exactly what's going to happen with Saddam.

MONTAGNE: And then last night the Iraqi government said that it would be changing a law that banned people who belonged to the Baath party from having government jobs - Saddam's Baath Party. Now isn't this a major concession by the Shiite dominated administration in Baghdad.

TARABAY: It is. It's a very, very significant concession from the government. And this was actually one of the main requirements made by the ambassador, serious about trying to calm the situation here and restore security and law and order. It's one of the points in the 24 point plan that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had set out in his reconciliation program. It's so important for them to actually begin to bring back these people who were members of the Baath Party - many of them simply say they could only get a job in Saddam's Iraq - and have them included again in the political process. Some 7,000 people who belong to the Baath party were already fired and now they're beginning to bring a lot of them back, including senior military officers who served under Saddam are being brought back to head the new Iraqi army forces.

MONTAGNE: Jamie thanks very much. NPR's Jamie Tarabay speaking from Baghdad.

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