Iraq’s Baath holds first public meeting in Syria

Damascus, April 30: Iraq’s banned Baath party, booted out of power in the 2003 US-led invasion, held its first public meeting in the Syrian capital on Thursday.

“We have launched negotiations to reunite the party,” Ghazwan Qubaissi, the number two in a wing led by Mohammed Yunes al-Ahmad, a former governor of Mosul under now executed leader and Baath chief Saddam Hussein, said.

“There is no difference between Baath party members here and those there (inside Iraq) … All are contributing to the liberation of the country,” he said at a meeting in a Damascus cultural centre attended by 300-500 people.

He was referring to a wing led by Ezzat Ibrahim al-Duri, Saddam’s number two and the highest-ranking party official still at large, seven years after the invasion which split the Baath into Duri- and Ahmad-led factions.

Several senior Iraqi Baath officials fled after Saddam’s ouster to neighbouring Syria, which itself is ruled by a rival wing of the Baath party, an Arab nationalist movement.

In August 2009, a diplomatic crisis flared between Iraq and Syria when Baghdad called for the extradition of ex-Baath officials it accused of having ordered deadly attacks in Baghdad, including Ahmad.

Syria rejected harbouring those behind the attacks, which it condemned.

Qubaissi at the meeting also hit out at Iraq’s new leaders who had “strayed from national reconciliation because they are in the process of sidelining all Baathists and nationalists.”

Iraq’s Justice and Accountability Committee barred about 500 candidates from the country March 7 general election on account of their alleged links to the Baath party.