Amending De-Baathification Law and New Concerns in Iraq

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ali Akbar Asadi
PhD Candidate, University of Allameh Tabatabaei & Expert on Middle East Issues

The process of purging the Baathist elements in Iraq, also known as de-Baathification, was initially kicked off by Paul Bremer, who served as the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq following the 2003 invasion of the country. The main goal of the process was to expel the leaders and main elements of Iraq’s Baath Party from the power ranks and start the new process of state building in the country. The process and efforts made in line with it finally gave birth to De-Baathification Law (with the goal of purging the Baathist elements), which was later replaced by the “Accountability and Justice Law.” The law enjoyed the support of various social groups in Iraq, especially Shias and Kurds who had firsthand bitter experiences with the tyrannical and violent policies of the Baath Party and were afraid of the reintegration of Baathist elements into power structure after the country’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, was toppled. In fact, purging the Baathists was a process consisting of major efforts made to create new laws and structures as well as necessary mechanisms in order to prosecute and punish criminal Baathists, strip them of their past privileges and social status, and also prevent their return to power structures and governmental positions. Those efforts were requisite measures which should have been taken in order to guarantee healthy transition of Iraq through its period of political challenges and instability to a new stage of the country’s political life. Nonetheless, from the very beginning, the law came under heavy fire of certain Iraq groups, which included Sunni Muslims and former Baathist elements. The opposition to the law was later transformed into an important factor which encouraged certain Iraqi political currents and the remnants of the former Baathist regime to counter the new state building process in the country.

De-Baathification Law for purging Baathists was finally approved. However, subsequent policies adopted and measures taken under this law became subject to opposition and criticism from various quarters, especially after they turned into a stumbling block by preventing participation of Sunni groups in the new political process in the country. As a result, measures were taken to modify the law by eliminating certain problems and insufficiencies which came to the surface during early years after the downfall of Iraq’s Baathist regime and the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein. As a result, some people belonging to the lower ranks of the Baath Party as well as those people who did not have any role in the Baath Party’s criminal and violent measures were gradually allowed to go back to their positions in state-run and security institutions. Therefore, Sunni Muslims found themselves in a better position to take part in the new power structure of the country. However, criticism targeting the “Accountability and Justice Law” and measures taken by the executive board of that law still continue and the country is witnessing negative measures and approaches taken by certain Baathist and Sunni groups under new political conditions. After the beginning of protests by Sunni groups in those parts of Iraq which are dominated by the Sunni population during the past few months, modification and adjustment of that law was put on the agenda of the protesters. However, despite the emphasis put on the need to heed Sunni protesters’ rightful and legitimate demands by the political groups and leaders of Iraq, they hold different views on the extent to which the law for purging Baathists should be amended. Despite those differences, a bill for the modification of De-Baathification Law was finally approved by the Iraqi Cabinet though it should be passed the Iraqi parliament before it officially turns into law.

Approval of a law for the modification of the former law which aimed to purge Baathist elements in the Iraqi government elicited various reactions inside the country. While some Sunni groups like al-Iraqiya and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, which is led by Saleh al-Mutlaq, argue that this issue is among legitimate demands of the protesters and should be heeded, most Kurdish groups and Shias in particular are against modification of the law. They believe that the modification of De-Baathification Law will provide the remnants of the Baath Party with an opportunity to return to power and are, therefore, strongly against it. The Shia sources of emulation in Iraq are among the main critics of any modification to the Iraqi government’s new decision. For example, the office of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani issued a statement in which it condemned the approval of changes to the Accountability and Justice Law by the Iraqi Cabinet. The statement strongly took the Iraqi government to task for its measure to bring back “the murderers” of the Iraqi government to the administration and paying salary and pension to special forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, who are known as Fedayeen (those who are ready to die for) Saddam. Meanwhile, Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq as well as supporters of the Iraqi cleric, Muqtada Sadr, which form two important Shia currents in Iraq, in addition to the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, have expressed their opposition and concern about the approval of the bill for the modification of De-Baathification Law. Referring to the fact that such political factions as Kurdistan Coalition, Badr, Ahrar, and Fadhilat have already voiced their opposition to the modification, the leader of Sadr Movement [Muqtada Sadr] said, “We cannot be part of a government which has Baathist forces as its members. If the government does not go back over its decision (to modify the law), we would not be part of it.” According to Muqtada Sadr, Iraqi ministers affiliated with his movement will not be part of the government which will also have elements of the dissolved Baath Party, Fedayeen Saddam and other terrorists in it. He noted that such a modification in the law has not been even demanded by protesters in any of the Sunni-dominant provinces of Iraq because they also hate the Baathist elements. The Iraqi Kurdish groups have also voiced their concern about the change of law. For example, Adel Abdullah – an Iraqi MP representing Kurdistan Alliance which is headed by the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani – has requested the sources of emulation in Iraq to put more pressure on the government and make it change its mind about modification of the Accountability and Justice Law.

A review of various reactions shown to the possible approval of the amendment to De-Baathification Law by the Iraqi Cabinet will reveal that this issue has been subject to severe criticism and opposition of most political groups and even religious leaders in Iraq who are seriously concerned about possible reintegration of Baathist elements in the Iraqi government. Of course, a closer look at De-Baathification Law will bring to the light possible insufficiencies in the process of de-Baathification and will help to prevent its untoward consequences for the Iraqi people and the political stability in the country. However, it seems one of the main concerns that approval of the new law has stirred among various Iraqi political groups is the possibility of the law to be exploited by certain politicians who may use it along the line of their own political interests to set the direction of future developments in Iraq. In that case and if gone unnoticed, such a measure could have various negative effects on the security and stability of the Arab country in the long run. As a result, it seems that more dialogue and more detailed analysis of various dimensions of proposed amendment to De-Baathification Law will reduce its negative consequences for the Iraqi society. It will also help all involved parties to try to eliminate setbacks of the law within a national and broad-based framework. In this way, while assuaging the concerns of Sunni groups, it would be possible to dispel the current concerns that Shia and Kurdish groups have about the contents and consequences of the new law.

Key Words: De-Baathification, Law, New Concerns, Iraq, Muqtada Sadr, Iraqi Kurdish Groups, Asadi

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