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IRAQ: Exiled former Saddam Hussein aide says Baathist resistance is 'ready to fight'

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Some in the United States harbor hope that Sunday's elections in Iraq will help the country move away from its sectarian troubles and toward democracy. But according to one former aide to Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has already stolen Sunday’s election by destroying the Sunni Arab vote.

“Maliki is trying to repress the entire Sunni population of Iraq by disallowing any Sunni candidate with even the remotest link to the Baath Party,” said Nizar Samarai, the director-general of the presidential office and an advisor to Hussein until the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“By trying to outlaw the Baath Party, he is setting in place a new civil war," Samari said. "But we are ready to fight." 

He conceded that the Iraqi Baath Party is involved in fomenting instability in the country, but would not give any exact details on how. But Samarai maintains it had nothing to do with the “Black Wednesday” attacks last August, which killed more than 100 people, and instigated a deep freeze in relations between Syria and Iraq.

Instead, he blamed Iran, the Baath Party's longtime nemesis. No one other than Iran, he alleges, could have pulled off such an operation. He did not explain his reasoning.

“I think Iran’s authority has been steadily and quietly growing in Iraq, and when the Americans pull out their troops we will see the real extent of Iran’s influence. Iran will always be there,” said Samarai, who also works as a political analyst.

Relations between Damascus and Baghdad have been in a free fall since the Black Wednesday bombings, with the Iraqi prime minister holding Syria and Baath Party elements in Damascus responsible. 

But Maliki was quoted this week as saying, “There are more shared interests to bring the two countries closer than there are reasons for souring the relationship.”

In Damascus, Samarai says, the Baath Party is organized, determined and optimistic.

About once a week members met to discuss various issues, from the future of the party to coordinating attacks with militant groups in Iraq. 

“Here in Damascus we try to hold meetings with various organizations, including national resistance groups, to discuss our political and military goals,” he said.

Maliki is clearly fearful of a resurgent Baathist movement and has been quick to apportion blame for the major bombing campaigns in Baghdad to outlawed Baathists in Syria, even as the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility.

“The Iraqi Baath Party is not responsible for any of the major bombings that have happened in Baghdad. Why would it target its own citizens? If we wanted to target anyone it would be the foreign presence or maybe the Iraqi police,” said Samarai, who hid out in various parts of Iraq for three and a half years, evading death squads before fleeing to Syria in November 2006.

The Iraqi government has also warned that the Sunni Baath Party intends to regain power with rumors of a Baathist takeover having charged through Baghdad last January.

Maliki said in an interview with Iranian television Sunday that elements “would definitely try to prevent the success of these elections and would leave a negative effect,” referring to members of the Baath Party.

Turnout is said to be lower than the 2005 election, even as Sunni voters are set to participate, unlike four years ago.

Several hundred candidates were banned from participating in the national parliamentary elections being held Sunday to fill the 325 seats in the Council of Representatives for alleged ties to the Baath Party.

Iraq’s Baathists are furious and Sunnis -- who will run as named candidates unlike in 2005, when candidates aligned themselves with a particular bloc) -- fear the ban will again affect voter turnout.

-- Stephen Starr in Damascus

Photo: An Iraqi refugee shows her ink-stained finger Saturday as she carries her daughter after casting her vote for the Iraqi general election at a polling station in Damascus, Syria. Credit: Louai Beshara / AFP/Getty Images

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