WASHINGTON – The U.S. must-find list of Iraqis who helped keep Saddam Hussein in power goes well beyond the top officials pictured on the military's now famous playing cards.
U.S. officials also want thousands who enforced Saddam's control through assassination, torture and misdeed.
Catching these lower-level operatives — and ultimately putting them on trial — promises to be a massive and lengthy undertaking.
The administration is planning prosecutions for alleged war crimes committed during this war as well as the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Cases also are expected to be pursued for alleged atrocities committed over decades by Iraq's government against its citizens.
"Numerous abuses, both past and present," are being catalogued, Pierre-Richard Prosper, State Department ambassador for war crimes, said recently.
"It's a big challenge," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org. "I think that they have clearly identified the major war criminals ... but I haven't seen any indication of what they propose to do with them.
"And I've seen no indication of how big the B list is and what they propose to do with the B list."
Human rights experts says Saddam had layers of security apparatus — secret police, militias, intelligence agents — whose members committed widespread atrocities to quash political dissent and keep the Iraqi president firmly in control of the nation of 25 million.
Tens of thousands of people had such jobs. U.S. officials do not know how many survived the war or how many committed rights violations.
Coalition troops are sorting more than 7,000 prisoners captured from the battlefield, deciding who to release and who to hold for prosecution on war crimes or past rights violations.
"The whole fabric of society was corrupted by the violations all the way down to the local police officer who participated in the arrest of someone on political grounds," said Alistair Hodgett of Amnesty International USA.
"But the ultimate decision rests in the hands of the Iraqi people to decide how far down the line do the trials go," he said. "If you're a guy ... whose brother was taken away, imprisoned and tortured, it's not for the United States to say the (perpetrator) is a small fry."
Abuses have been reported for years.
A U.N. report said membership in certain political parties was punishable by death, as was insulting Saddam or his party. The State Department says Saddam's government targeted dissidents' family members.
American troops in Iraq carry a deck of cards with pictures of leaders in Saddam's government who are wanted most urgently.
Several have been captured. Coalition forces are questioning them for information about Iraq's weapons programs, the whereabouts of other leaders and Iraqi links to terrorists.
Bringing them to trial is a lower priority.
The administration says it has not decided what charges might be brought against them or who would prosecute.
As for lower echelons of suspects, Iraqis have given information that has aided some captures. Over time, more tips and captured documents will help U.S. officials decide who else to apprehend, Pentagon officials said.
Hodgett and other rights advocates oppose the U.S. plan to help Iraqis prosecute rights violators, noting the country's judicial system has been in disarray for years.
He said the United Nations should name a group to begin planning the rebuilding of an Iraqi justice system immediately because it has extensive experience and because justice delayed could result in a rash of revenge killings.
Pike said that because abuse was pervasive, Iraq could consider something like South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.