New Iraqi Law on Baath Worries Ex-Baathists

So the big political news today is that the Iraqi parliament on Saturday finally passed a revision of the "De-baathification" law issued by US viceroy Paul "Jerry" Bremer in May of 2003. That law got tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs fired from their government jobs and excluded from public life and helped kick off the Sunni-Shiite civil war we having been living through for the past few years.

The passage of the new law will be hailed by the War party as a major achievement. But as usual they will misread what really happened.

If the new law was good for ex-Baathists, then the ex-Baathists in parliament will have voted for it and praised it, right? And likely the Sadrists (hard line anti-Baath Shiites) and Kurds would be a little upset.

Instead, parliament's version of this law was spearheaded by Sadrists, and the ex-Baathists in parliament criticized it.

Somehow that little drawback suggests to me that the law is not actually, as written, likely to be good for sectarian reconciliation.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat writes in Arabic that the parliamentarians who criticized the law were drawn from the National Dialogue Council led by ex-Baathist Salih Mutlak, from the Iraqi National List of Iyad Allawi (an ex-Baathist), and from two of the three parties that make up the Sunni Arab National Accord Front.

So the parties in parliament that have the strong Baathist legacy did not like the law one little bit. But they are the ones that it was intended to mollify!

Parliament has been unable to get a quorum on several recent occasions, and barely mustered a quorum on Saturday, with 143 members in attendance out of 275. The new law passed with a narrow majority. The vote count was not published anywhere I could find it, but it could have been as low as 72.

Now, when the Iraqi cabinet of PM Nuri al-Maliki initially introduced the draft bill into parliament last November 25, the Sadr Movement deputies rhythmically pounded their desks in protest. The Sadrists have a special and abiding hatred for the Baath Party, which killed both major clergymen that they venerate, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (d. 1980) and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (d. 1999). But on Saturday the Sadrists spoke for the new law. Very suspicious.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that the current head of the De-Baathification Commission, Falah Hasan Shanshal, is a member of the Sadr Movement. He said, "The law was legislated to punish anyone who committed a crime against the children of the Iraqi people . . . and in tandem, to provide that anyone who had not committed crimes must retire. Those persons may also return to public life, with the exception that some cannot work as bureaucrats in the judicial, ministerial or security bureaucracies, or in the ministries of Foreign Affairs or Finance. He added that "everyone agreed on punishing the Baath Party as a party that committed crimes against the Iraqi people." He expressed the hope that the law would be quickly ratified by the presidential council.

Baha' al-A`raji is a Sadrist and the chairman of the Legislative Committee in parliament. He said that the law in its current form differs essentially from the bill that was sent over from the cabinet. Al-A`raji told al-Sharq al-Awsat that "Some members could not vote for some passages or articles in the current version of the law . . . or could not accept the law in its entirety. But a majority of parliament voted for the law." He added that the law "took into account all the suggestions of the Sadr Movement." The Sadrists had demanded that the De-Baathification Commission not be dissolved, but would accept a change in name for it. They had demanded that the Baath Party remain dissolved, and that the high-ranking members of the party be forbidden to enter the new political life or serve as bureaucrats. The Sadrists had also insisted that any high-ranking Baathists presently employed by the new Iraqi government must be fired!

The headlines are all saying that the law permits Baathists back into public life. It seems actually to demand that they be fired or retired on a pension, and any who are employed are excluded from sensitive ministries.

Al-A'raji was completely unsympathetic to opponents of the law, which he said was now unstoppable.

Members of the Iraqi National Front (Allawi's group), the National Dialogue Front (Mutlak), and two of the three constituent parties of the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni Arabs), along with some IAF independents, denounced the law in a circulated, signed letter. They said that the law would be "difficult to implement." They indicated that they had not voted for it and do not support it. They called it "unrealistic" because it contains an article forbidding the Baath Party "from returning to power ideologically, administratively, politically or in practice, and under any other name." The law's opponents charged that this language was unconstitutionally vague and could easily be "misused."

What are the ex-Baathists afraid of? Well, they are ex-Baathists in politics. So this objectionable passage seems to make it possible for the Sadrists, e.g., to keep people like Iyad Allawi from ever again enjoying high office. His secular, nationalist Iraqi National party could easily just be branded too close to the original Baath Party and dissolved, and he could be excluded from high office by this new provision.


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