Iraq to invite some Baathists to participate in elections

Monday, November 29, 2004

BAGHDAD Iraqi officials said the government of Prime Minister Iyad Alawi plans to meet Saddam operatives over the next few weeks to discuss the prospect of sharing power in any new post-Saddam regime. They said the meeting would seek to persuade former leaders of the Baath Party that they could be participate in a democratic Iraq.

Officials said the government was concerned that the elections would be boycotted by Iraq's minority Sunni community. Sunni and Kurdish political parties have called for a six-month delay in Iraqi elections because of the insurgency in the north and west of Iraq.

"We want to take time to have a dialogue and convince them [insurgents] to join the process," Adnan Pachachi, head of the Sunni-dominated Independent Democratic Movement, said.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the meetings with former Baath Party leaders would take place in Jordan before the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. Zebari said the Alawi government would exclude those Saddam loyalists deemed as key figures in the insurgency.

"We want all these meetings for national reconciliation and to broaden the participation of those Iraqis as long as they denounce terror," Zebari said. "The Jordanian government is facilitating these contacts to encourage their participation in the elections."

The interim government's campaign could have the effect of splintering the opposition loyal to Saddam Hussein.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, regarded as spiritual leader of Iraqi Shi'ites, has opposed any postponement of the Jan. 30 elections. On Saturday, senior government officials as well as a group of 42 parties and politicians most of them Shi'ites agreed.

"Postponing the elections is out of the question," Iraqi electoral commission chairman Abdul Hussein Al Hindawi said. "As far as we are concerned, the elections will be held at the date scheduled by the fundamental law. In theory, the elections cannot be postponed, bar a political disaster."

The date for the meetings in Jordan with Baath leaders has not been announced. Officials said Jordan and Syria have pledged to cooperate and persuade the Baathists to attend the meeting.

"In Jordan, we will meet number of political opposition movements to expand the political process in Iraq," Zebari said. "These are social, political and some high-ranking Baath leaders who were accused or were on lists of most wanted people. We will do what can help put an end to all pretexts."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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