BAGHDAD, Iraq – The top U.S. official in Iraq fired a Baghdad police chief because of his Baath Party (search) membership, despite the help he provided American forces in rebuilding the capital's ravaged police force.
West Baghdad police chief Abdul Razak al-Abbassi was dismissed Sunday, said Lt. Col. Richard Vanderlinden, commander of the U.S. Army's 709th Military Police Battalion.
Al-Abbassi was found to have had full membership in Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, disqualifying him from any of the three top positions in an Iraqi government bureaucracy, Vanderlinden said.
A 33-year veteran of the force, Al-Abbassi helped coax Baghdad (search) police to return to work and rebuild their looted station houses, and restarted patrols in a city under siege from Kalashnikov-wielding carjackers and looters.
"He was very cooperative, very competent at his job," Vanderlinden said.
L. Paul Bremer (search), who heads the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, issued a decree earlier this month that prevents up to 30,000 upper-level Baathists from retaining any job in a future Iraqi government. The order is especially stringent for leaders of security departments.
Bremer fired al-Abbassi on May 21, a day after Baghdad officers complained that a top Baathist still controlled the force.
But since Bremer gave himself wide latitude to grant exceptions to the de-Baathification rules, U.S. military police officers asked Bremer's office to permit al-Abbassi a hearing on the matter.
Al-Abbassi presented his case on Saturday but the decision to fire him was not changed, Vanderlinden said.
Al-Abbassi may still qualify for a lower-level government job, Vanderlinden said.
The news comes as the U.S. occupation force works to reform the Baghdad police department.
The west Baghdad force, with some 2,000 officers who patrol jointly with the 709th MP Brigade, was to begin receiving new uniforms Monday.
Across the Tigris River, some 2,000 police in east Baghdad — who patrol in concert with the U.S. Army's 519th MP Battalion — were also to receive new uniforms.
U.S. forces have disbanded all Iraqi security organizations from the military to the secret police.
The Baghdad police force is far too small for a city the size of Houston, with a crime rate believed far higher among some offenses, said Lt. Clint Mundinger, intelligence officer of the 709th.
To address the shortage, Bremer's office is devising a police recruitment drive, Vanderlinden said.