Sunday 11 May 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The American general who commanded the Iraq war issued a statement Sunday saying Saddam Hussein's Baath Party "is dissolved,'' ordering the political organization that ruled the country for 35 years to cease existence immediately.
The message from Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of coalition forces, was read over U.S.-controlled Information Radio on Sunday afternoon.
"The Iraqi Baath Socialist Party is dissolved,'' Franks said in the statement, read by an announcer in Arabic. The station is broadcast across Iraq on the AM band.
Franks' order came a month after U.S. troops took Baghdad and unseated Saddam's regime, which had made sure the Sunni-dominated party -- whose formal name is the Arab Baath Socialist Party -- extended its reach and its control into all corners of the country's society.
The statement told Iraqi citizens to collect and turn in any materials they had relating to the party and its operations. It called them "an important part of Iraqi government documents.''
"Possessions of the Baath Party must be delivered to the temporary coalition authority,'' the statement said. "Anyone who possesses documents related to the Baath Party or the Iraqi government must maintain and protect them and hand these documents to the coalition.''
Unseating the Baath was considered a top priority of American military planners in the run-up to the Iraq war, which began March 20 and had largely ended by mid-April.
The general's order Sunday is in some ways academic, given that the Baath-controlled government has been overthrown and both the American military and its civilian administrative counterparts have occupied the country.
But some upper-level Baath government and party leaders, including Saddam himself, remain either unaccounted for or the run. The United States says it has made a priority of tracking them down -- as exemplified by its "deck of cards'' issued to U.S. forces and depicting the regime's most-wanted.
In the weeks since fighting ebbed, the U.S. occupying force's administration has moved to appoint its own overseers to government ministries and bring people back to work with an eye toward excluding Baathists who worked closely with the Saddam regime.
However, membership or affiliation with the party was required for many if not most white-collar jobs, and American officials have acknowledged that purging Baathists from the ranks of Iraq's civil service may be neither possible nor desirable.
Franks' statement also said that "apparatus of Iraqi security, intelligence and military intelligence belonging to Saddam Hussein are deprived of their authority and power.''
But the general emphasized that freedom of expression -- including political expression -- would be assured under coalition occupation.
"All parties and political groups can take part in the political life in Iraq, except those who urge violence or practice it,'' he said in the statement.
The Arab Baath Socialist Party gained a totalitarian grip over nearly all aspects of Iraqi society since its first brief lurch to power in 1963 and its final takeover in 1968, which would last until last month.
Saddam, who reportedly got his start in the party as a clandestine killer, was a force behind the scenes starting in the late 1960s but did not formally grab control until 1979.
Two generations of Iraqis have been indoctrinated with the party's theory of Arab supremacy. Lower-level members have managed the institutions of government on a day-to-day basis.
As many as 1.5 million of Iraq's 24 million people belonged to the party. But only about 25,000 to 50,000 were full-fledged members -- the sort of elite targeted by U.S. officials now trying who want to the party's influence.
The Baath Party was founded in Syria in 1943 and spread around the Arab world, promoting Arab superiority and Arab unity with a violent, Soviet-style party structure. It took power in Syria in 1963 and created branches in many Arab countries, bitterly squabbling both with established governments and rival, communist revolutionaries.