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Compensation paid to Iraqi property owners whose real estate was seized by Saddam

The Commission for the Resolution of Real Property Disputes has 1,660 full time staff working on sorting out the property that was grabbed by Saddam Hussein's regime.

'Saddam was fairly even-handed when it came to this kind of injustice. He was unjust to all, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians. Injustice was meted out no matter what people's ethnicity,' said Ayad Hassan Ali, deputy head of the Commission which has a mammoth task working out who the rightful owners are.

One example is Abdel Rahman. Her family has occupied a house, orchard and land since 1986 but is now having to return it to its rightful owner. She is not happy and said her father bought the property in goof faith at an auction organised by the finance ministry.

But the Commission has ruled that it was seized from its original owners. The property is in Jadriyah which is regarded as prime real estate in today's Baghdad. But the family has been paid compensation – some $671,500 calculated at today's valuation.

The Commission's task, working from its computerised main offices in Baghdad and branches around Iraq, is to settle claims for land and real estate seized, confiscated or bought by force or at unfair prices by Saddam's regime.

So far it has been flooded with 153,000 claims, with the disputed northern city of Kirkuk where Saddam evicted Kurdish residents, topping the list of grievances with 41,500 claims.

Baghdad, where land prices have risen dramatically, has 18,000 claims, while the executed dictator's hometown of Tikrit also features high on the list.

The commission's initial procedure after a successful ruling in favour of a claimant was that the original owner had the right to reclaim the property, and current occupants could then seek compensation from the previous seller.

'This complicated procedure created problems,' said Talib Jawad, who coordinates with UN agencies in training and providing other technical support for the decision panel. So the law has now been amended to authorise the finance ministry to step in and settle successful claims directly.

The party returning the property to its original owner is now entitled to compensation as long as it was not awarded the land as a gift from the former regime. If the rightful owners opt for compensation rather than a return of the property, then they are paid by the finance ministry, which seizes any gift from the former regime.

The panel has so far approved finance ministry payouts of more than $255 million in compensation to 16 groups of citizens, varying in number according to the size of the family or tribe.

Investigations will continue until the claims stop. There is no deadline until the work is completed, explained Jawad.