Sunday, January 13, 2008

To de-Baath or not to de-Baath, that is the question

The primary reason given for the “surge” in American troops in Iraq's civil wars was to buy time for the Iraqi government to achieve a number of political benchmarks – one of which was to overturn the de-Baathification rulings set down by occupation tsar, Jerry Bremer. Nothing has happened since the beginning of the surge and the so-called benchmarks President Bush said were so important a year ago, have somehow vanished from White House statements on Iraq.

That is, nothing happened until reports yesterday came out that one benchmark – de-Baathification – is being implemented. This was great news as a first step toward reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite factions in the country. (The Sunnis are a minority in Iraq but were dominant in the ruling Baath Party and, therefore, disproportionately affected by the de-Baathification ruling of the Coalition Provisional Authority after the downfall of Saddam Hussein.) As Matthew Yglesias put it, “Unlike the ephemeral "success" of the surge, reconciliation really would create the conditions under which US forces could withdraw on an uncontroversial note of success … from most all points of view.”

Unfortunately, as it is now being reported, the program may force the discharge of as many ex-Baathists as are eligible to return to government service. This from Kevin Drum:

Today saw the first concrete sign of political reconciliation in Iraq: the passage of a law that eases the anti-Baathist order put in place by Jerry Bremer at the beginning of the American occupation in 2003. In theory, the new law should allow thousands of Sunni ex-members of Saddam's civil service to once again serve in government jobs.

Whether it works out that way remains to be seen. The Washington Post quotes Ali al-Lami, spokesman for the current de-Baathification commission, saying that the law will have just the opposite effect, making it easier to get rid of even more Sunnis:

The new measure could lead to a new purge of members of the current Iraqi government, Lami said, including about 7,000 officers in the Interior Ministry. Even influential Iraqi security force officials who used to be Baathists could face removal.

"The commander of the Baghdad security plan and his assistants, according to the new law, they should retire," he said.

The New York Times provides an even bigger estimate:

One Shiite politician, who spoke on condition that his name not be used, said the new law could forcibly retire up to 27,000 former Baathists, who would receive pensions.

On the other hand, the Times quotes other officials suggesting that the law would allow 13,000 to 31,000 former Baathists to regain their jobs. So who knows? Whether reconciliation is really in the offing depends on just how the law is enforced and who does the enforcing. Wait and see.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

I wonder what their criteria is for reincorporating former Baathists into positions of authority. I hardly think it's something that could be handled without putting a lot of effort into the matter.