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US Forces Clean Up Vestiges of Saddam's Rule - 2003-04-15

With Iraq's regime defeated, its leaders either dead, captured or on the run and the country's major cities taken, U.S.-led coalition forces are now starting to clean up the lingering vestiges of Saddam Hussein's rule. That includes what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the "de-Baathification" of Iraq: the elimination of Saddam's political party.

The war in Iraq is essentially over, though questions remain about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction the Pentagon says his regime has hidden.

But the winding down of combat means attention can shift now to Iraq's political future.

And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that is primarily a responsibility for the Iraqi people themselves. "The specific institutions of a new Iraqi government will be decided by Iraqis. A free society should really not be imposed from the outside. We can help by bringing Iraqis together and by helping to create conditions of stability and security that are necessary for a free society to take root. But building a free Iraq is the right - and indeed the responsibility - of the Iraqi people," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

A first step took place Tuesday in southern Iraq where about 80 members of anti-Saddam groups from inside and outside Iraq gathered to discuss plans for the country's future.

At the end of the U.S.-backed meeting in Nasiriyah, the participants issued a 13 point statement insisting the government of post-war Iraq must be democratic and inclusive of all Iraqis. The statement also called for the dissolution of the Baath party - the party of Saddam Hussein.

Not all Iraqi groups took part. A key Shiite organization refused to attend. Speaking at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld has told reporters the boycott does not trouble him. "What's going to happen is it's going to get sorted out on the ground, and that's fine. People demonstrate in the United States and boycott political rallies and things; that's what free people do. And it ought not to come as a surprise. Our attitude about it is that the Iraqis are going to have to sort this out," he said.

But not entirely on their own. Mr. Rumsfeld makes clear the Bush administration will require Iraq's new, emerging leaders to agree not to threaten the country's neighbors or the world with weapons of mass destruction; they will also have to guarantee the rights of religious and ethnic groups and permit political freedom and individual liberty. "It ought to be a country that doesn't have weapons of mass destruction and doesn't threaten its neighbors, and if there are people who think it ought to, then our preference is that they not participate. It ought to be a country that sets itself on a path towards a government that is responsive to the people and respectful of minorities and different - the diversity in the country, of religious diversity and ethnic diversity. And if people want to have a different kind of government, then we'd prefer they not participate. Beyond that, we would - we'd also prefer that people not participate who basically don't represent Iraq, but who think they represent some of the neighboring countries. And that would - that's an unhelpful thing, it seems to me," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld calls those "the standards" and he appears to hope the United States will not have to take any kind of a heavy-handed approach to ensure they are followed - leaving the policing to Iraqis.

"We just keep repeating the conditions, and the people will do the vetting. People on the ground know these folks. They know the bad ones," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

But he said the Baath Party will definitely have to go - just like the Nazi Party after World War II. Having previously likened Saddam Hussein to Hitler, that should come as no surprise.