BAGHDAD — The Iraqi panel tasked with purging government ranks of former members of Saddam Hussein's party said on Thursday that it has removed the country's top judge from his post because of alleged ties to the now-dissolved Baath party.
The removal of Chief judge Medhat al-Mahmoud from the leadership of the Supreme Judicial Council and the Supreme Federal Court was not expected to spark a political outcry, unlike some previous dismissals of politicians and government officials.
The deputy chief of the country's Justice and Accountability Committee, Bakhtiar Omar al-Qadhi, said the decision taken Wednesday was based on "strong evidence" supplied by parliament.
"We received an official document from the parliament showing that he was one of the former regime's henchmen," al-Qadhi told The Associated Press in a phone interview. He wouldn't discuss the details, saying that al-Mahmoud has 60 days to appeal.
If the judge does not appeal, he will have to either retire or accept a lower post, he added.
The 80-year old al-Mahmoud started his carrier in 1960 when he was appointed as an investigative judge. After the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, he was chosen by the Coalition Provisional Authority as a supervisor for the Justice Ministry, and in 2005 he took over both the Supreme Federal Court and the Supreme Judicial Council that oversees courts nationwide.
He has long been viewed by the country's Sunni minority as an ally of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Many Sunnis accuse al-Mahmoud of helping al-Maliki sideline opponents by issuing arrest warrants against politicians, holding trials that do not guarantee the minimum rights to suspects and issuing interpretations to disputed articles in the constitution in favor to the Shiite-led government.
Hadi Jalo, an analyst at the Baghdad-based Political Decision Center for Strategic Studies, said he believes that the move is part of the political wrangling in the country and will not have grave consequences.
"I read it as part of the political targeting," Jalo said. "There is a strong desire for revenge against al-Mahmoud ... I don't think that there will be any big reaction and that the story will be forgotten soon."
Phone calls to the judge's office and to his spokesman were not immediately answered.
The vetting panel, often referred to as the De-Baathification Committee, was set up by the U.S.-led CPA which ruled Iraq after the invasion to purge important government jobs and positions of former mid- and high-ranking members of the Baath party. The committee's seven members are chosen by parliament.