AN NAJAF, Iraq -- A new panel established by coalition forces in late August is looking into more than 85 cases involving Ba'ath Party members who are alleged to have performed atrocities against An Najaf, Iraq residents.
The Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, based in 29 Palms, Calif., helped create the Baath Party Investigation Committee, a special team of local lawyers and investigators who will aid Iraqi officials prosecute criminal cases against former Hussein loyalists.
The committee's task is to sift through evidence and rumors to determine who will face a judge, or clear innocent people who have been slandered by enemies.
When community leaders met with the Marines throughout August to discuss power and fuel issues, questions turned to the topic of Ba'ath Party members still in power, and crimes they had committed.
They recounted stories of wives were raped in front of their husbands, or Ba'ath Party officials who had murdered whole families in the middle of the night. Those that survived now fear that only the coalition can protect them from retribution from members of Saddam Hussein's former party lurking in the shadows.
"All they would offer were accusations," said Maj. Rick Hall, battalion executive officer, which is responsible for the stability and safety for the 1.2 million people who live in the province of Najaf. "They would complain to me that the coalition was not doing enough to catch Ba'ath Party members and I would tell them, 'I need evidence.'"
To victims of atrocities, evidence was in the pain left behind, as well as anger, according to Hall.
"They would tell me that 'I know he did it and he's in the Ba'ath Party, so go kill him,'" Hall said.
Religious and community leaders who regularly met with Hall didn't believe in due process until the Marines, with the help of a special prosecutor from Najaf, removed the former governor of An Najaf after allegations of corruption in office were proven.
"Once he was arrested, they understood what I had been talking about and understood that I could not talk about accusations about the governor because it would have jeopardized the case," said Hall, a native of Mankato, Minn.
The incident was the springboard for the special investigative committee designed to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by Baath Party members and submit cases to a judge to determine if charges could be filed against them.
Within four days of the opening of the Baath Party investigation committee, citizens already brought to their attention more than 85 cases to investigate, said Abdel-Kadhm Jihad Irgaimeeki, a lawyer on the committee.
"People in the Baath Party are very bad and must be punished," said Irgaimeeki. "There is not a man here who has not been subject to their attacks."
Indeed, every member on the investigative committee has stories of personal tragedy that they've endured during Saddam Hussein's rule.
"I was a member of the Dowa Party and I was punished by Saddam's special court," said Fou'ad Abdul-Mohsin Al-Abasino. "I was put in jail for six years."
In spite of personal feeling, those chosen are expected to put aside personal feeling and pursue allegations and leads objectively.
Those who are being accused may use the committee to seek protection from residents seeking revenge.
Aside from cleansing allegations that could pit neighbor against neighbor, the committee also allows the citizens of An Najaf the opportunity to control their own destiny without coalition help.
"They took on Saddam's army," Hall said. "They don't need our help, all they need is the right leadership they will be able to solve their own problems."