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Iraq panel clears senior judge over Saddam ties

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SINAN SALAHEDDIN | February 19, 2013 09:07 AM EST | AP

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BAGHDAD — An Iraqi judicial panel rejected on Tuesday a decision to remove one of the country's top judges from his post because of alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's now-dissolved Baath party, an official said.

Last week, Iraq's Justice and Accountability Committee tasked with purging government ranks of officials with ties to Saddam decided to remove judge Medhat al-Mahmoud, who heads the Supreme Federal Court, for his alleged role as an adviser to the late dictator while holding senior judicial posts.

The committee's deputy chief, Bakhtiar Omar al-Qadhi said al-Mahmoud filed an appeal to the cassation panel which didn't find strong evidence of such ties and rejected the dismissal. The panel reviews decisions by al-Qadhi's committee and wields higher authority.

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.

In separate decision earlier last week, he was removed from the Supreme Judicial Council as requested by a new law, so that he could remain head of Supreme Federal Court.

The 80-year old judge has long been a part of the country's political wrangling. Critics of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Mailiki, mainly from Sunni minority, consider him an ally to the premier. Many accuse him 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 of the Shiite-led government.

The removal decision has put parliament at loggerheads with al-Maliki, who has called it "politically-motivated" and ordered the replacement the committee's head. Parliament argues that al-Maliki doesn't have a say about the makeup of the committee as its seven members are chosen by parliament.

The vetting panel, often referred to as the De-Baathification Committee, was set up by the U.S.-led provisional authority which ruled Iraq after the invasion to purge important government jobs and positions of former mid- and high-ranking members of the Baath party.