BAGHDAD, Iraq - In the late 1990s, Raied al-Alani was earning about $25 a month teaching computer programming at Rafidain College here. He had a doctorate in statistics, a wife and three children. And he wanted to make more money and better provide for his family.
He followed the path chosen by many educated Iraqis to get ahead: In 1998, he joined Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, the organization that held a monopoly on the best jobs and virtually all meaningful power. To be a high-ranking teacher, to climb the ladder in almost any field, to have any hope for meaningful security and standing - membership was an essential first step for that.
Alani paid dues of about 50 cents a month, organized occasional student-run pro-Hussein rallies on campus, and was told to spy on people in his class for any anti-government sentiment. He says he never reported anyone. Within a few years, he was named head of his department and given a raise so that he earned $100 a month.
Now, Hussein's government is gone, and Alani and scores of Iraqis like him may find themselves on the wrong side of a new government and political system that U.S. authorities are hoping to create.
The one principle the Americans have announced is that former senior members of the Baath Party - at least 15,000 people and possibly as many as 30,000 - will not be allowed to have government jobs or play a role in public life.
Alani is wondering if he will be among those excluded.
"I joined only because of my job," Alani said in his comfortably furnished home, a day before universities across Baghdad reopened for the first time since the war. "I didn't believe in Saddam. I wanted a higher-education certificate."
Alani, born in Baghdad, studied briefly in London, improved his English there, and earned his bachelor's and doctoral degrees from Baghdad University. He lives in the house he grew up in - two stories and made of stone, hidden behind a high wall in a neighborhood built in the 1960s for the families of army officers. He keeps a portrait of his father - proudly wearing the green army uniform of a general - on display in every room.
Father was hanged
Joining the Baath Party was an agonizing decision for him. Two years before Alani joined the party, he says, security forces arrested his father after the retired general criticized Hussein in what was thought to be a private conversation among friends. His father was hanged.
"What did he ever to do to Hussein? He did nothing," Alani said.
Yet Alani joined the party, and he has no explanation except the most obvious one: "I did it for my family."
American officials are finding that rooting out remnants of Hussein's government is not as simple as firing all the Baathists. There is a difference between people who fervently believed in the party's ideology and those who had sought only an avenue to advance themselves. More troublesome, virtually any Iraqi in a position of authority, from overseeing power plants to overseeing universities, was a member of the party. They know how the country was run, and they might be vital to helping in its reconstruction.
It is a problem that has not escaped the new American civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer III. Last week, he said he would issue orders "to extricate Baathists and Baathism from Iraq forever. We have and we will aggressively seek to identify these people and remove them from office."
"We have a very difficult job," Bremer said. "We are trying to work with Iraqis to restore essential services. In some cases, we have found people who have worked with us have turned out to be members of the Baath Party. They have been put out of office."
This month, U.S. administrators appointed a Baath Party member, Dr. Ali Shinan al-Janabi, as acting minister of health, only to force him to resign after Iraqi doctors protested and he refused to sign a paper renouncing the party.
Alani, who has destroyed most of his papers linking him to the party, said he would gladly rescind his oath. He also feels confident about keeping his job because he considers himself too insignificant a member to cause any concern. But he questioned how U.S. officials could effectively run the country without help from Baath Party members.
"Most of the teachers at university are only teachers because they are in the Baath Party," Alani said. "If we are all gone, who will take over education?"
Alani had followed his father's footsteps into the army and served for eight years at a military computer lab in the capital. He left to earn doctorates in computer engineering and statistics.
His father, Raghib al-Alani, was a military judge who retired with the rank of general. If he harbored any anti-Hussein sentiments then, or took actions that he later regretted, he never told his family. "He kept it all inside his heart," Alani said.