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December 20, 2003
Former Saddam Officials Targeted by Vigilantes

It was just a matter of time before this started happening:

Iraqi sources with contacts among former and current security officials estimate that about 50 senior figures in Hussein's intelligence, military intelligence and internal security organizations have been gunned down in recent months. There has been an even larger toll among neighborhood party officials, such as Taee, who are blamed for having informed on the local community during Hussein's rule, these sources said.

Neither the morgue nor officers in Iraq's new police force -- who concede they have little interest in probing these deaths -- have tallied the figures. But the phenomenon is citywide, according to a survey of police stations, with numbers varying widely from one district to another.

It is difficult to blame the victims of Saddam's regime for taking matters into their own hands after 35 years of brutal oppression. After all, one way to make sure that people like Taee don't get a chance to squeal on you again is to kill him; perhaps one could think of it as a form of pre-emptive self-defense, if not just retribution.

However, there are three problems with this phenomenon. First, it encourages Iraqis to bypass the newly-evolving government and judicial process, and in order for those to succeed, the government needs buy-in from all of the Iraqi people. Also, when the trials start, these people may make good witnesses to the atrocities of Saddam and his main henchman; their loss may be significant. Lastly, of course, it's murder, no matter who the victims are, and indiscriminate murder degrades any society if left unchecked.

The CPA and Iraqi Governing Council should be making offers for protection for lower-level Ba'athist functionaries in exchange for testimony and documentary evidence in order to protect the witnesses and to capture the bigger fish that may be still unaccounted for.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 20, 2003 10:16 AM

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