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Consumer Reports

Baathist singer, voice of Saddam's regime, assassinated | (KRT) BAGHDAD, Iraq - For millions of Iraqis, Daoud Qais was the voice of public adoration for Saddam Hussein. Even those who despised Saddam can recite the singer's melodious praise played for years on Iraqi television.

"If there was a symbol of the regime, it was Daoud," said Ali Jawad, a worker with the Artists' Union that Qais harshly ruled. "He stood for everything Saddam did, and we hated him as much as Saddam. To kill him would be an honor."

Assassins, calling his name, gunned down Qais last weekend at the gate of the house Saddam had given him. The murder was one of at least a dozen in recent days of Baath party stalwarts, ranging from former intelligence officers to elementary school principals.

Vengeance appears to be a prime motive behind many of the killings, which number more than 100 in the five weeks since the collapse of Saddam's regime, according to Baathists, many of whom have gone underground in fear.

"How can they kill a man who was just a singer?" said his son, Salwan Daoud Qais, 27, who also is a Baathist and has a brutal reputation among student artists.

"So he was Baath party, but not one of the big men," he said, dabbing tears with a tissue at a mourning tent Tuesday. "If they are going to decide to kill the Baath party members, then they will have to kill three-quarters of all Iraqis."

U.S. officials believe roughly 600,000 Iraqis were Baath members, out of a population of 24 million.

With no government, and U.S. military patrols struggling to harness street violence, the targeted killings of Baathists have melded into the daily accounts of mayhem. The statistics are murky because most police stations are not functioning.

But the pace seems to have jumped since the American transition team announced last week that Baathists would be barred from government positions in postwar Iraq and the party dissolved.

For many Iraqis pining for payback for 30 years of torture and murder, that was not enough. The party and the secret police were executors of Saddam's terror against tens of thousands of Iraqis. And the recent discovery of numerous mass graves has fueled calls for reprisals.

"The person whose ... brother or father (was) killed by the Baathists, well, you can't stop him," said Aqeel Ibrahim, 32, a Muslim worshiper attending noon prayers Tuesday at a mosque where lists of Baathists have been circulated. "It is his right to take revenge."

In any of the murders, the suspects are many.

Falah Dulaimi, assistant dean of the Mustansirya University's college of sciences, was hit by three bullets as he left the campus May 10. The assailants fled in a pickup, firing shots in the air.

Dulaimi, a notorious Baathist, had a long list of enemies with motives for revenge.

Did the killers represent a family whose son disappeared after Dulaimi complained about him to the party a few years back? Were they undergraduates forced into overnight guard duty for the party by Dulaimi? Or was his name simply on hit lists formed from looted intelligence and now making the rounds among Saddam's opponents?

"He had many enemies," physics student Luttfi Majeed said of Dulaimi. "Sixty percent of the students hated him deeply. There was no crying after he was dead."

Since Dulaimi's murder, Baathists have stayed away from their teaching jobs and classes. In a departure from Muslim tradition, no black banner marks the spot of his death.

"I am not going back in that university," said Mohammed Jasim, a student supporter of Dulaimi whose father held a top party post in Baghdad. "It's not safe."

Conservative religious leaders, consumed this week with anti-U.S. and anti-secularism campaigns, say they are not directing the attacks on Saddam's followers.

"We have ordered that there should be no killing and shooting," said Sheikh Mohammed Fartousi, a key dissident Shiite cleric whose attention these days is focused on closing liquor stores and cinemas.

Still, Fartousi asked: "Shall we say it's a punishment against these people because they were responsible for many crimes against the Iraqi people? They used to think they were No. 1 in the country."

The slaying of crooner Qais has cast a pall over Baathists who say that no member is safe.

The boyish-looking Qais, 55, made pro-regime music that was aired on state-run Iraqi TV even during the American bombings in March.

"We hope you stay alive," were the words of a favorite tune written to soldiers during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. "Long life for you. Long life for our country."

After the regime fell, Qais and his family went into hiding.

As dusk neared Saturday, Qais heard some gunfire outside his gate, his son said. He opened the metal door.

"Daoud?" a man said before firing a bullet into his head. At the College of Arts, where Qais was a feared alumnus known for intimidation of artists, cheers greeted news of his demise. A college employee recalled people saying, "Damn him; he's dead. Thanks be to God."

Qais' son wondered Tuesday why Iraqis have become so crazed.

"I want to get out of this country as soon as possible before many more people are killed," he said.

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© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services