Ex-Baathist assassinated in Iraq

A former leading member of the Iraqi Baath Party was fatally shot on Friday, police said, according to dpa.

Gunmen killed Sami Jadua and his brother in the heavily Shiite city of Karbala, roughly 120 kilometres south of Baghdad, police in Karbala told the German Press Agency dpa on Friday.

The Iraqi government, which today is dominated by Shiite Muslims and Kurds, has recently begun reaching out to former members of the Baath Party, now banned under the Iraqi constitution, as part of a "national reconciliation" process.

Recent meetings between senior government officials and former leading Baathists have drawn criticism from some Iraqi Shiites, forcing al-Maliki and his political allies to defend the programme as a necessary part of restoring stability to the country.

"We believe that these people have violated Iraqis' rights for 35 years, and that they have cooperated with the terrorist al-Qaeda network to kill Iraqis since their regime was overthrown," the imam of Baghdad's Shiite al-Rahman mosque said in a sermon broadcast on Iraqi television Friday.

Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdel-Mahdi recently met with Mohammed Rashad al-Sheikh Radi, a former leading member of the Baath Party. Abdel-Mahdi, a Shia Muslim, is a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which was based in Iraq's old rival, Iran, during Saddam Hussein's rule. He spent most of the years of Baath rule in exile in France.

Hundreds of ex-Baathists have been killed since US-led forces ended their rule in 2003. US forces arrested many of the party's senior leaders, and many others fled the country, fearing revenge attacks from Shiite militias.

The first act of the provisional government set up by the United States after it toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 was to ban the Baath Party, whose members previously accounted for roughly 10 per cent of the Iraqi population.

In January 2008, the Iraqi parliament passed the "Accountability and Justice Law," which eased a ban on former Baathists' holding public sector jobs. 

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