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Chalabi purging Baathists from Saddam tribunal in run-up to trial

[JURIST] Nine senior staff members of the Iraqi Special Tribunal [JURIST news archive], each former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [Wikipedia backgrounder], were dismissed on Tuesday, apparently at the instance of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and former Iraqi exile leader and Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi [JURIST news archive], currently in charge of the Iraqi government's "de-Baathification" program. The dismissals are technically in accordance with the Tribunal's governing statute [text], which bans Baathists, but the provision had up to now been loosely enforced as membership in the Baath party was required of all senior legal figures during the Saddam era. Sources close to Chalabi say nineteen other tribunal officials have been threatened with dismissal, including Raid Juhi, the chief investigating judge, but those dismissals have not been carried out because of concern over disrupting the court's apparent plan to start Saddam Hussein's trial in September. Other sources, however, say Juhi is actually pressing for the tribunal's de-Baathification himself [FT report], and is seeking changes in the tribunal's statute to accomplish that more effectively.

Relations between Chalabi and the Iraqi Special Tribunal have been cool since Chalabi's nephew Salem Chalabi was dismissed [JURIST report] as executive director of the IST in 2004 at the instance of Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawai, an estranged cousin and rival secular Shiite leader. Salem Chalabi's replacement is one of the officials said to have been dismissed, along with the court's head of security and the chief of its witness protection program. US officials are reportedly upset with the ongoing political interference in the work of the IST, and an unnamed American is even said to have threatened to have the Saddam regime trials removed to The Hague. At the same time, concern about Baathists has affected other Iraqi institutions, including Iraq's constitution-drafting committee [JURIST report]. The New York Times has more.

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