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Reform or dissolve Iraq's anti-Baath panel-Chalabi

Written by: Staff
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DUBAI, May 12 (Reuters) - An Iraqi panel hunting out former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party should be reformed or dissolved, the panel's head said in remarks aired today.

The panel was involved in a row with judges due to preside over Saddam's trials and some Iraqi officials have accused it of starving the security services and other departments of talent.

''The time has come to review the law (that created) this commission which has existed for three years,'' outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi told Al Arabiya television.

''The constitution requires the next parliament to review the commission and the law, and ... it is even possible that it could be dissolved if there is an absolute majority for it in parliament.'' ''I am personally ready to step down from the leadership of the commission and leave the matter in the hands of parliament,'' said Chalabi, a secular Shi'ite whose own future in government is unclear after he failed to win a seat in December's election.

The independent Debaathification Commission, charged with rooting out former Baathists, was set up under U.S. military rule after Saddam's overthrow in 2003.

Chalabi, a wealthy former exile who was once Washington's preferred Iraqi leader before abruptly falling out of favour, has been a strong proponent of cracking down on Baathists.

However, as Shi'ite Islamist Nuri al-Maliki tries to form a national unity government in the face of mounting sectarian violence, many in Saddam's once dominant Sunni minority are pressing for a softer, more inclusive line toward ex-Baathists.

Many Iraqis argue that party membership was not a matter of ideology for many but merely of protecting employment.

Some suggest the new government may consider bringing back senior security officials, previously barred under deBaathification, to help lead the struggle against guerrillas.

Chalabi has a record of surviving political setbacks and, despite his failure to secure a parliamentary seat, may still figure in Maliki's new administration.

REUTERS CH PC2256

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