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Draft law would reinstate the jobs of members of Saddam’s party

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A day after Saddam Hussein was sentenced to hang, the country’s Shiite-dominated government offered a major concession Monday to his Sunni backers that could see thousands of purged Baath party members reinstated in their jobs.
    With a tight curfew holding down violence after Saddam’s guilty verdict and death sentence, the government reached out to disaffected Sunnis in hopes of enticing them away from the insurgency, which has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and is responsible for the vast majority of U.S. casualties.
    The U.S. military announced the deaths of five more American troops, two in a helicopter crash north of Baghdad and three in fighting west of the capital. The deaths raised to 18 the number of U.S. forces killed in the first six days of November.
    Relentless sectarian killings also persisted despite the extraordinary security precautions, which eased late Monday. Fifty-nine bodies were discovered Sunday and Monday across Iraq, police officials said.
    Nevertheless, Sunday’s verdict and Monday’s opening to the Sunnis were seen as a welcome break for the United States, which had recently called for the Iraqi government to stop purging members of Saddam’s Baath party from their jobs. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, however, has balked at U.S. requests to set up an amnesty for insurgents.
    Al-Maliki has been engaged in a public feud with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad since last month, when the prime minister disputed the envoy’s announcement that he had agreed to a timeline for progress in quelling violence and encouraging Sunnis to join the political process.
    On Monday, there were indications Khalilzad was preparing to leave his post.
    National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, during a visit to Baghdad on Friday, told al-Maliki that Khalilzad would leave about the first of the year and be replaced by Ryan Crocker, a senior career diplomat who is now ambassador to Pakistan, according to two top aides to the Iraqi leader. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
    In Washington, a senior Bush administration official said Khalilzad could leave as soon as the end of this year. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the White House nor Khalilzad had announced any personnel changes.
    The United States dissolved and banned the Baath party in May 2003, a month after toppling Saddam. The U.S. later softened its stance, inviting former high-level officers from the disbanded military to join the security forces.
    The former top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, also allowed thousands of teachers who were Baathists to return to work. He conceived of the so-called de-Baathification effort but later found it had gutted key ministries and the military with no replacement personnel among the Iraqi work force and educated elite.
    About 1.5 million of Iraq’s 27 million people belonged to the Baath party — formally known as the Baath Arab Socialist Party — when Saddam was ousted. Most said they joined for professional, not ideological, reasons.
    Career advancement, university enrollment and specialized medical care depended on party membership. However, those who advanced in the party were expected to spy on fellow Iraqis and to join militias that were accused of helping suppress Shiite and Kurdish revolts after the 1991 Gulf War.
    Monday’s political concession to the Sunnis was detailed by a government organization that had been charged with removing Saddam loyalists from state institutions. Under a draft law, which the Shiite-dominated parliament must approve, the organization now plans to amend its rules to enable thousands of former Baath party members to win back their jobs.
    The amendments developed from a 24-point national reconciliation plan that al-Maliki announced in June shortly after taking office.
    ‘‘Such a move will be in the interest of Iraq because a Baathist, like any Iraqi citizen, has the right to get back his job,’’ said Ammar Wajih, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country’s largest Sunni group.
    ‘‘This decision could move the country toward stability and could be a way to open bridges between the resistance and the Americans,’’ Wajih said, referring to advances the Americans have pursued with insurgent groups in a bid to end the fighting.
    Under the former de-Baathification protocols, 10,302 senior party members had been listed for dismissal. The draft law, however, includes the names of just 1,500 Baath party members, said Ali al-Lami, the commission’s executive director. Those not reinstated would receive pensions, he told the AP.
    The commission was established in January 2004 and had already purged 7,688 party members from government positions.
    Many Sunni Arabs claim that that the de-Baathification process was aimed at their sect rather than the Baath party. Until Saddam was ousted, the Sunni minority had ruled Iraq for decades. But al-Lami said more Shiite Baath party members lost their jobs in southern Iraq than Sunnis did in the central heartland.
    ———
    AP Diplomatic Writer Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.

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