1De-Baathification in Iraq was a fleeting phenomenon, but one whose short lifetime was marked by two vivid scenes linked to its inception and its demise. The first of these was the epic beginning that formed part of the apocalyptic scenario surrounding the American occupation of Iraq. The other was when the policy, having already slipped into a coma, was abandoned to die a slow and unmentionable death.
2There was a linguistic element to the conception of de-Baathification. Iraqi translators preferred to Arabise the term by translating it as ijtithath al-ba‘th, meaning the “eradication” of Baathism. The Arabic expression is of agricultural origin and signifies completely uprooting a harmful and parasitic plant. In comparison, the term “de-Baathification” suggests a neutral, if not actually bureaucratic, matter of procedure. This “mistranslation” was the point at which two radically different developments converged. One of these was a cultural trend, worthy of philological investigation, caused by the profound weakness of democratic traditions in Iraqi culture and in the Arab world in general. It was only natural that this weakness should have become ever more acute during the 35 years of Baathist totalitarian rule. The other trend was a political one, embodied by the American war on Iraq and the radical break with political traditions, laws and international norms that it implied.
3The casual tone of the term “de-Baathification” recalls the era of Saddam Hussein itself. Indeed, it was Saddam who first imposed the original process of Baathification using all the force of the state and literally uprooting all those who stood in the way of Baath Party rule. Later the process of de-Baathification would also be imposed by force, but this time by an occupying power.
- 1 Al-Hayat newspaper, 15th January 2004.
4However, if de-Baathification may be likened to a film, then its audience had already seen some previews before the main screening took place. Shortly after the invasion and occupation of Iraq in April 2003, management of the country’s affairs was taken over, with a certain amount of embarrassment, by the retired general Jay Garner as American proconsul. However, only one month later things began in earnest with the arrival in Baghdad of Paul Bremer. Garner, it seems, was not in favour of the policy of de-Baathification which was pursued by his successor. Indeed, so-called “well-informed American sources” quoted Stephen Browning, one of Garner’s aides, as saying that America’s strategy at that time consisted of two steps: “the first was to establish a dialogue with leading moderates in the Baath Party in order to prepare them for an important role in the political future of Iraq, and the other was to keep Baathist officials in their jobs, provided they renounced their former party”1. In general, policymakers on Iraq during Garner’s brief administration were content to exclude senior former Baathists from their old posts. This seemed both a wise and a fair approach to take.
5However, after that began the “uprooting” of Baathism. On 16th May 2003 Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), issued what he called “Order Number One”, which decreed the “de-Baathification of Iraqi society”. This order was prefaced by the following words:
- 2 This introduction is followed by the details of the order; see Appendix.
“Recognizing that the Iraqi people have suffered large scale human rights abuses and depravations over many years at the hands of the Baath Party, noting the grave concern of Iraqi society regarding the threat posed by the continuation of Baath Party networks and personnel in the administration of Iraq, and the intimidation of the people of Iraq by Baath Party officials, concerned by the continuing threat to the security of the Coalition Forces posed by the Iraqi Baath Party...”2
- 3 Newspapers of 23rd July 2003.
6On 13th July 2003 the CPA formed the Iraqi Interim Governing Council (IGC). Ten days later the new council issued its political manifesto, in which it defined nine points of action. The second of these was “to erase all traces of political oppression and ethnic and sectarian discrimination; to uproot the Baath Party and its ideology from Iraqi society and to embed the principles of political pluralism and democracy”3. It seemed to observers that this manifesto was destined to have a long life, and to all concerned it appeared to promise all sorts of crucial developments. What was beyond doubt was that the Baath Party had to be held strictly to account for its past actions. This party, which had ruled Iraq from 1968 until 2003, had turned Iraqi society upside down, destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, including many who had ended up in mass graves. Then there were the two wars of aggression into which the Baathist dictator had dragged the country, not to mention those of its own citizens whom the regime had bombed using chemical weapons. At the same time as all this, the Baath Party – like any other totalitarian one – had monopolised all positions in the social, educational and other institutions of the country. For this reason it seemed that to free the Iraqi state and society from the grip of its ruling ideology was a prerequisite for the building of a new Iraq. The same could also be said of the need to return all property that had been seized by the Baath to its rightful owners. It was also obvious that those responsible for carrying out abuses under the former regime should be given fair trials and sentenced to the punishments they deserved.
7However, at this point we must take a step back for a moment. For it was Saddam Hussein who, having imposed the process of Baathification from 1968 onwards, himself began the de-Baathification of Iraq when during his last decade in power he reviewed his approach to the Iraqi tribes and turned the Baath Party into a mere front for his personal rule and that of his family. As a result of this policy, the regime’s constituency came to equal the so-called ‘Sunni triangle’, the location of the town of Tikrit and Saddam’s home village Al-‘Awja (Jabar, Dawod, 2003). This meant that the American decision to pursue a policy of de-Baathification was two-sided: regardless of the intentions of those who had drawn the policy, it was as much a means of taking revenge on a certain sect and a certain region as it was a process of breaking the hold of the Baath Party and its ideology on Iraqi society as a whole.
8Add to this the fact that membership of the Baath Party, at least after 1990, was often determined by people’s self-interest and opportunism – sometimes by the need merely to secure a job. There were even people who had been coerced, threatened and placed under psychological pressure to join the party. These factors were all much more decisive in most people’s membership of the party than ideological considerations. How could it be otherwise, when all along there had been little more than a weak cultural element to Baathist doctrine, which was full of rhetoric and which was transformed under Saddam into mere rituals for the greater glory of the leader?
9All this negates, or at least complicates, one of the most important conditions for holding people to account, in the civilised sense of the word – namely the assumption that the accused is an individual who has committed his actions out of convictions formed by himself. For it appears that the crimes of the Baath were mixed with a primordial background which reflected the historical instability of the national fabric of Iraq: an instability which the ruling despot and his entourage exploited and from which they benefited. Naturally, this does not mean that former Baathist criminals should be pardoned and forgotten, but it does mean that the response to non-ideological behaviour should not itself be ideologised, as was the case with the de-Baathification programme. An ideologically-based treatment of problems such as these will lack flexibility and risks degenerating into a form of collective, indiscriminate revenge.
10This question also raises the problem of how to deal with the legacy left behind by totalitarian regimes in general, and not just the Baathist one. These regimes, like the god Janus, have two faces: they repress and fragment the people in order to control them, yet as their control grows so too, to a certain extent, does their popularity. They maintain a firm grip on economic life and on all social opportunities, and likewise exercise power over education and the moulding of their citizens’ minds through numerous ideological intermediaries, extending their network from the public to the private spheres. As far as the Baathist regime is concerned, it is sufficient to recall that it remained in power for three times as long as the Third Reich in Nazi Germany. During this period, whole generations of young people grew up knowing nothing but Saddam Hussein, who for them was both the great Leader, and also a charismatic figure.
11We may thus be able to estimate how many people might be affected by an explosion of vendettas, which would inevitably be marked by a tyrannical and sectarian character. A Lebanese journalist who has visited Baghdad on numerous occasions since the war and has written about it at length reminds us of the countless reasons for revenge which exist there:
“The documents which were stolen from the offices of the former security and intelligence services and which are now in the hands of security, civil and sectarian organisations have already been used to pursue individual vendettas. These have so far been isolated incidents, but the possibility that they might increase in scale remains”.
12The situation of disorder in the country itself encourages acts of revenge and the settling of scores beyond the reach of the state and the law, particularly when both of these are so weak. In Iraq,
- 4 Hazem al-Amin in Al-Hayat of 13th November 2003.
“everything needs to be redefined and reordered. Public and private property, public records, registers of the living and the dead, of who has killed whom, and of who is innocent and who guilty. For example, there are mosques which have been occupied by other sects which allege, without any conclusive evidence, that the buildings were seized from them during the rule of the Baath Party. There are people who claim that such-and-such a farm used to belong to their family, before it was appropriated by the Baathist regime. Even several new Iraqi officials have taken possession of public property, claiming that it was originally theirs. Then there are the mass graves, the neighbourhood informers and the so-called ‘chosen ones’, whose function was to notify families that one of their relations had been executed, not to mention the officers and judges who signed the execution warrants, copies of which have now fallen into the hands of all and sundry”4.
13There is another aspect to this issue which should not be ignored. Clearly the problems involved in a country’s emergence from the rule of a totalitarian, dictatorial or racist regime become all the more difficult if accompanied by a foreign occupation. On the one hand, the occupation leads to change being associated with “betrayal of the nation” – or that at least is the charge easily made by those who stand to lose from the changes in question. At the same time, there exists under an occupation a greater tendency for revenge or for a vindictive interpretation of events than is the case with change that comes from within. The realisation of the national interest also becomes a more remote prospect. From Spain after Franco to Chile after Pinochet, from South Africa to the countries of the former Soviet Union, transitions have proceeded more smoothly than in Iraq. In all of these countries, elements of the old regimes survived in one form or another in the systems that succeeded them. Franco’s supporters in Spain and the Communists of the former USSR reinvented themselves and managed, in some cases, to return to power – albeit within a different, democratic framework. Indeed, in countries such as Chile (with Pinochet’s surrender to the army), in Poland (with the signing of the 1989 Round Table Agreement), in South Africa (in the part played by de Klerk) and in the Soviet Union (with the role of Gorbachev), the birth of the new order was in each case accompanied by an accommodation with the ancien regime. In Iraq an even greater degree of caution was called for, since those who had lost power appeared to have done so absolutely: a situation compounded by the reality of foreign occupation. It is the absoluteness of their loss which risked transforming these people overnight into pariahs or insurgents. Yet the pragmatic flexibility which was especially necessary instead gave way to ideological rhetoric, and the eradication of the Baath Party became an article of faith in the war of American ‘good’ against terrorist ‘evil’.
14It is significant that leading figures in the American Defence Department, as well as the Wall Street Journal (whose pages are a platform for writers and journalists from the radical Right), were among the first to draw comparisons between de-Baathification in Iraq and de-Nazification in Germany. It was in the Journal, for example, that Daniel Johnson wondered
“how can the Americans and British break the remaining grip the Baath Socialist Party has over the Iraqi people? The last time the Allies faced a comparable problem was at the end of World War II, when the defeat of Germany left them with the task of re-educating a nation defeated on the battlefield but still saturated with Nazi doctrines. Just as Germany was successfully de-Nazified, the challenge today is to 'de-Baathify' Iraq”.
- 5 The Wall Street Journal, 24th April 2003.
15In a somewhat narrow-minded fashion, Johnson quotes the historian Bernard Lewis to support his argument, citing the latter’s claim that “the ideological origins of the Baath parties of Iraq and Syria are to be found in Hitler’s Germany”5.
- 6 The Weekly Standard, 5th December 2003.
16Other neo-conservative American theoreticians expressed this line of thought more explicitly. For example, Mayrav Wurmser wrote a piece titled Reading, Writing and De-Baathification in which she listed the principal tasks facing the new Iraq: “Hardest of all is the reshaping of Iraq’s political culture – that is, replacing the Baath Party cult of enslavement and hate with liberal-democratic ideas”6.
- 7 Al-Hayat, 29th March 2004.
- 8 Al-Hayat, 15th January 2004.
17What made this all the more worrying was the link between de-Baathification and other radical policies which had been aired at the start of the war. These included the desire to rid Iraq of its “Arab identity”, especially dear to the country’s Sunni Arab minority; the overnight transition to full peace with Israel; and the dissolution of the Iraqi Army which for Sunni Arab nationalists symbolised both their identity and their dignity. In Iraqi sectarian terms these goals implied the weakening of the Sunni Arabs, who were already fearful because of the numerical superiority of the Shia. Moreover, there were practical considerations of a simpler kind, though more closely bound up with the conditions of Iraqis’ daily lives. Sunni Arab circles viewed de-Baathification as the “eradication of Sunni influence from the ministries and all the country’s vital institutions”. They also linked the policy of de-Baathification to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the most prominent of the Shiite parties involved in Iraq’s new era, and its ambitions to control “the appointment of its members and supporters as substitutes for Baathists who had been dismissed from their positions”7. These dark suspicions were reinforced when membership of one of the parties in the new IGC was made a condition of employment to the civil service8.
- 9 Al-Hayat, 15th January 2004.
18It is true that verification committees were established with the aim of “preventing fraud in the de-Baathification process”, but Sunni Arabs still insisted that they could not save the people who had been dismissed from their positions who appealed to them9. Those who were not afraid of de-Baathification itself were afraid of the people in charge of it. The fact that Ahmad Chalabi had been appointed chairman of the de-Baathification Commission was enough to confirm many people’s suspicions. Of all Saddam’s opponents, Chalabi was the closest to the American Defence Department and the neo-conservatives. However, he was also the scion of an Iraqi Shiite merchant family which had left Iraq after the republican military coup of 14th July 1958. From that point on, Chalabi grew up embittered towards all the Arab nationalist and socialist movements that were usually associated with Sunni military officers. Instead, he developed a kind of Iraqi nationalist sentiment, based on a Shiite majority open to the West, to Israel and to Iran.
- 10 Randa Taqi al-Din, Al-Hayat, 18th May 2004.
19De-Baathification and Chalabi’s appointment to lead it also became a source of anxiety for certain Sunni Arab leaders outside Iraq, who preferred America’s less radical policies. King Abdullah II of Jordan (where Chalabi had been found guilty on charges of embezzlement) drew a connection between what was happening to the Baathists and “the confrontation between Shia and Sunnis” which was occurring “for the first time in Iraq”. King Abdullah called for the policy of de-Baathification to be reconsidered, since under Saddam “anyone who wanted a job had to belong to the Baath Party”. The monarch warned that the Sunnis had “felt isolated from the beginning and sensed that they were being excluded from Iraq’s future”. King Abdullah – a friend of Washington who can hardly be accused of hostility to America (whose language he speaks much more fluently than he does Arabic) – drew comparisons between Iraq and the South African experience. Somewhat bluntly he suggested that “the chairman of the de-Baathification Commission himself was not the ideal choice, being a Shiite who is not right for the task. In South Africa, Desmond Tutu was chairman of the Reconciliation Commission and had a positive influence”10.
- 11 Al-Hayat, 17 September 2003.
- 12 Al-Hayat, 12th January 2004.
20Instead of calming nerves and offering reassurance, Chalabi set about stirring up the fears of Iraqi Sunnis. His spokesman Intifad Qanbar, for example, made the inflammatory claim that “after lying low for a while after the fall of Baghdad, the Baathists resumed their activities, wandering the streets freely and without fear”11. In an obvious spirit of revenge, Chalabi himself revealed that the de-Baathification Commission had dismissed some 28,000 officials from their posts, and stated at a press conference that a similar or even greater number would be discharged in due course. This step had been taken, Chalabi claimed, “because, as is well known, Baath Party members are inveterate criminals”. His performance even had something of Hercule Poirot about it, the detective of Agatha Christie’s novels, as when he claimed that conclusive proof of his allegations had been “found in personal papers in the possession of Saddam Hussein on his arrest”. This “evidence”, Chalabi maintained, confirmed the involvement of members of the Baath Party in terrorist attacks. As for national reconciliation among Iraqis, Chalabi explained that this term was used erroneously. He called on his countrymen “not to forget the bloodstained history of the Baath Party leadership and not to hold out the hand of reconciliation to those who had participated in the crimes of the mass graves and in killing and persecuting our people”12.
21It would seem suitable at this point to compare what happened in Iraq with another experience well known to students of modern European history : a comparison which will rightfully anger many Iraqis. While the Baathification of Iraq was achieved by force after the Baath Party seized power through a military coup, the case of Nazism in Austria was very different. The popularity of the Nazi Party grew enormously in Austria after it had come to power in neighbouring Germany. It managed to address many sections of society at the same time, from the lower middle classes to farmers, miners, officials, artisans, merchants, students and intellectuals. The presence of the latter in the movement was decisive, and their activities in the universities of Vienna and Graz played a significant role in the successive internal tensions between 1933 and 1938 which had led to the Anschluss or annexation of Austria to Germany. This was a very popular step. On 15th March of that year a quarter of a million Austrians packed the Heldenplatz in Vienna in order to welcome the Führer. Another half a million people lined the Ringstrasse to celebrate the announcement of unification with Germany. Over the course of the following days, Austrian Jews were subjected to looting and assaults on a massive scale. There are no pictures from that period of anxious and dejected Viennese faces, nor of anyone holding back their tears – as we do see among the people of Prague when it was invaded one year later by Hitler.
22Following its liberation, Austria was exempted from the process of Vegangenheitsbewältigung or “coming to terms with the past” which Germany underwent. It is true that Austrian courts passed death sentences on 30 people, but this was a small price to pay given Austria’s crucial historical involvement in the Third Reich. This subject was never studied or discussed. The Jewish Socialist politician Bruno Kreisky, perhaps Austria’s most prominent post-war figure, took advantage of this conspiracy of silence regarding his country’s past. He brought former Nazis into his government and even refused to hand over Austrian war criminals, which led to notorious disputes between him and the famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. The West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer sought to reduce the effects of the revision of Germany’s past which the Allies had started but not finished. Kreisky, by contrast, completely rejected this process of revision from the outset. The silence surrounding Austria’s history continued until Kurt Waldheim was elected the country’s president, having previously been appointed Secretary General of the United Nations for 10 years in 1971. It was when Waldheim became president of the Austrian Republic that it emerged that he had served as a Nazi officer in the Balkans and been complicit in Nazi war crimes there.
23The tendency to go along with Austria, which had embraced Nazism of its own free will, enjoyed broad international support. It is well known that the origins of this attitude went back to October 1943, when the Foreign Ministers of Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States met in Moscow to discuss several issues arising from the consequences of the war. In the course of their deliberations they touched briefly on the case of Austria, which since 1938 had formed part of the German Reich. They agreed without any difficulty to liberate Austria, which in their view had been the first free country to fall victim to Hitler’s aggression.
- 13 See Al-Hayat of 28th January 2004, 24th February 2004 and 30th March 2004.
- 14 See the comments of the Shiite Sheikh and IGC member Muhammad Bahr Al-‘Ulum in an interview with Al (...)
24In Iraq, a combination of ideology and the desire for revenge, rooted in local conditions and in the theorising of neo-conservatives in Washington, meant that any call for ‘national reconciliation’ was bound to fall on deaf ears. National reconciliation had become the great rallying cry in Sunni Arab circles, but the de facto powers in Iraq’s Shiite milieu had drawn the idea into question13. Admittedly there were exceptions among few moderate Shiite politicians and liberal and left-wing intellectuals, just as there were among certain representatives of Iraq’s trans-sectarian tribes, in which Sunnis and Shia were joined by ties of kinship and trade. Nonetheless, the ethnic-sectarian split remained the basic gauge for evaluating national interests, and the feelings of the majority Shia favoured this trend14.
- 15 Al-Hayat, 28th December 2004.
25The disheartening fact was that Iraqi supporters of de-Baathification were even more extreme than the Americans. Their thirst for revenge was almost palpable. In late December 2003 a report was published in Baghdad saying that “experts from South Africa are to visit Iraq to help create a mechanism for reconciliation along the lines of that which was set up in Pretoria”. The newspaper which reported this news observed that the ‘American administration’ might be behind this idea, “since the Americans are in favour of the IGC or any future government of Iraq granting an amnesty which would lead to a swifter conclusion to the process of reconciliation”. However, the newspaper itself added that an official in the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the party headed by Ahmad Chalabi, had said that the documents presented by the families of the victims of the Baath Party would “lead to the prosecution of more than 150,000 Baathists”. These families, the official said, were “pressing for a campaign of mass arrests of former Baathists”15.
- 16 See Al-Hayat of 16th November 2004, for example.
26Numerous Iraqis in turn appealed against the judgements made against them and demanded their jobs back. For a long time most people who appealed against their dismissals were turned down. Yet in another difference between the Baathification and de-Baathification of Iraq, these same people had unprecedented freedom to express their anger at being ignored and at the policies and intentions which lay behind this situation16. The reality was that the sectarian and ethnic fragmentation of Iraq had turned the de-Baathification programme into a kind of undeclared civil war, more than a process of dealing with the past in order to build a better future. Here it may be worth drawing another comparison with Germany, in order to shed light on certain aspects of the problem, while bearing in mind that Germany (which succeeded in overcoming its own Catholic-Protestant divide) had brought Hitler to power through democratic elections.
27Broadly speaking, the Germans had dealt with Nazism more as a regime and a set of relationships than as a phenomenon made up of individuals, and accordingly society could recover from what had simply been a passing “sickness”. There were certain troubling aspects to this approach which pointed to a far-reaching national complicity among the Germans. Norbert Frei has documented the extent of opposition in West Germany during the post-war years to bringing the criminals of the Nazi period to justice or dismissing people from their jobs who had been prepared to reach an accommodation with the Nazis (Frei, 2002). This ambivalence characterised the early part of Adenauer’s period in office and his method of dealing with Germany’s immediate past. While German officials would speak reluctantly on the international stage of their compatriots’ sense of guilt, questions of responsibility and retribution were not so evident in the dialogue taking place inside their country. Then in 1949 the West German government made a dramatic u-turn regarding the post-war policy of de-Nazification, taking advantage of the Cold War and Washington’s need to devote all its efforts to resisting Communism and the Soviet Union.
28Adenauer, who had himself twice been imprisoned by the Nazis, oversaw the passing of laws granting an amnesty to all Nazi criminals and returning to their former posts all those who had been dismissed from their jobs in 1945. Indeed, the measures implemented by Adenauer went beyond merely rehabilitating certain individuals : the amnesty had the effect of de-legitimising steps which the Allies had taken after the liberation of Germany. Significantly, they also served to satisfy the collective psychological needs of a society that was yearning to make a clean break with an unparalleled political and moral disaster. In Iraq, such a desire to turn over a new leaf, which combined pragmatism with denial, was at odds with the desire for revenge fuelled by ethnic and sectarian divisions.
- 17 Kiesinger had joined the Nazi Party in his youth, and during the war had served as assistant chief (...)
29The Adenauer period saw a wish to reintegrate former Nazis at any price. There was a prevailing belief that what had happened during the first years after Germany’s liberation was enough, and that the mass acceptance by Germans of the democratic parties was evidence that the past would not repeat itself. Thus, in complete contrast with the strict measures adopted by the Allies, the new West German government passed the amnesty laws between 1949 and 1954 and reduced the numbers of suspected war criminals liable for prosecution. This far-reaching policy allowed numerous criminals to escape punishment and paved the way for a former Nazi like Kurt Georg Kiesinger to become, two decades after the war, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany17.
30This kind of approach was of course morally debatable, but in political terms it created a kind of unity centred on the new state and its leader, Adenauer. It did no harm to the establishment of democracy in West Germany nor to the country’s firm allegiance to other western countries, and it was instrumental in reducing anti-Semitic sentiment among the German population. By contrast, the policy of de-Baathification in Iraq was, as American officials would later admit, one of the causes of extremism and terrorism in the country rather than a catalyst of national unity, particularly when it was accompanied by the dissolution of the Iraqi Army and the collapse of living standards of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The years of the international embargo on Iraq that followed the war to liberate Kuwait had increased the state’s already large role in the economy. De-Baathification therefore dealt a body blow to the public services, since it was people who had become Baathists, for whatever reason, who had been in charge of education, health, public works and other vital sectors. Outside the Baath, there was no one qualified to ensure the smooth running of these services.
31After the fall of the Sunni Baathist regime, and with the Shia’s ever-increasing allusions to their numerical superiority in Iraq, Sunnis feared that de-Baathification was code for an even greater transformation in the government and society as a whole. It was accompanied by the growth of the role of political parties representing the other sects and ethnic groups, while all that was left to the Sunnis were a few old and marginal organisations such as the Islamic Party, the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. This explains the growing role of radical Sunni clerics in the Association of Muslim Scholars, which was to terrorist groups in the Sunni Triangle what Sinn Fein was to the IRA in Northern Ireland. Indeed, de-Baathification may be blamed in part for the explosion in terrorism which those engaged in it imagined might, if only in a negative way, manage to fill the gap in the representation of Sunnis. In all probability it was considerations such as these, coupled with the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, which drove many redundant former officers to join the ranks of the terrorist gangs, bringing their technical expertise with them. One alarming result of de-Baathification was to accelerate the process by which Al-Qa’ida and similar or related organisations succeeded the Baath Party after it had lost power. Even in the Shiite areas de-Baathification and the dissolution of the army served to exacerbate the phenomenon of Muqtada Al-Sadr, the radical and possibly mentally disturbed Shiite cleric. According to press reports Al-Sadr’s movement expanded to include Baathists and former soldiers who took refuge in its ranks either from fear of reprisals or simply to earn a living, or both.
- 18 On the dissolution of the Iraqi Army see Michael R. Gorson’s piece in the New York Times, carried i (...)
32To be fair, we must distinguish between the policy of Baathification pursued by Saddam Hussein and de-Baathification. The distinction between the two is an important one, for several reasons. Baathification was a decision taken centrally and which was not open to discussion, let alone opposition. De-Baathification, on the other hand, was the object of innumerable criticisms both from elements of the new Iraqi order and from the Americans themselves. De-Baathification as it was put into practice had nothing permanent about it. Instead it appeared to be closely tied to the vicissitudes and contradictions of American policy and its awakening to the reality of Iraq, which was itself contradictory. The strictly dogmatic approach of the Baathists was in stark contrast to the arbitrariness and fragility of the de-Baathification programme. The lack of an American plan for post-war Iraq and the disputes between the US State Department and the Pentagon conspired to frustrate any policies implemented in Iraq, including that of de-Baathification. Events were constantly taking the Americans by surprise, and eventually they found themselves obliged to listen to the voices of reason18.
- 19 Al-Hayat, 24th February 2004.
33Gradually, as the disastrous consequences of American policy in Iraqi unfolded, a new language concerning de-Baathification came to the fore. In February 2004 a conference of “Baghdad notables” called for an end to de-Baathification and the beginning of national reconciliation. One person who attended the conference observed that “the term de-Baathification is a harsh one, and we want to soften it as much as possible”19. Fearful of the Shia’s numerical superiority, the Kurds – of whom the overwhelming majority were Sunnis – also began to speak out against de-Baathification, particularly now that they no longer felt seriously threatened by the Sunni Triangle. As a result a conference for national reconciliation was held in Irbil in March 2004 at the instigation of Mas’ud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Barzani demanded the abandonment of de-Baathification. He also recommended
- 20 See the press of 23rd March 2004.
“calling on the IGC to issue a decree annulling its previous decision, because the reasons for de-Baathification no longer exist. Such a step would embody the principle of amnesty when possible and would express a desire to spread a spirit of tolerance and peace, on condition that the most senior leaders of the Baath Party are exempted, along with those guilty of crimes against the Iraqi people”20.
- 21 Al-Hayat, 28th December 2003.
- 22 Al-Hayat, 5th July 2004.
34Months earlier Kurdish politicians had already begun emphasising that the trials of members of the previous regime should be limited to America’s list of the “55 most wanted” leading Baathists, and not the expanded list of 200 figures21. Kurdish leaders continued to maintain this position following the handover of power to the Iraqis. At the same time Fu’ad Ma’sum, head of the Higher Commission tasked with preparing the Iraqi national congress, announced that former Baathists would be allowed to stand for election to the congress22.
35Meanwhile the Minister of Health Khadir Fadil drew a distinction between “de-Baathification” and the “removal of Baathists”. As he saw it,
- 23 Al-Hayat, 11th May 2004.
“unfortunately the [De-Baathification] Commission has made the same mistakes as the Baath Party institutions did under Saddam Hussein. Lists of names have been falsified to include alleged high-ranking members of the Baath Party, and this has led to great injustice being committed against many people with no connection whatsoever to the party’s decisions. Regrettably the [verification] committees have not scrutinised these lists, and so a number of ministers have demanded a limit to the activities of the [De-Baathification] Commission”23.
- 24 Al-Hayat, 13th August 2004.
36Ultimately it was possible for this new language to be adopted even by influential Shiites such as Dr. Ibrahim Al-Ja‘fari, the leader of the Islamic Da‘wa Party, who was nominated interim Vice-President of Iraq. Al-Ja‘fari pointed out that “the vast majority of Baathists have committed no crimes”. He suggested that to have normal dealings with former Baathists was now a “logical step” and he warned against what he called their “neglect”. While there were no precise figures on the number of party members discharged from their jobs as ‘investigations were still ongoing,’ nonetheless Al-Ja’fari admitted that “their dismissal from state institutions on the grounds of mere suspicion has brought these organisations to a halt”24.
37American statements on the subject were also becoming more nuanced, especially interventions by military figures. Two generals in the US Army, one of whom was General Batiste,
“warned that the occupation authority's policy of barring former Baath Party members, including senior Iraqi army officers, from government jobs was self-defeating and breeding resentment against the US-led efforts in the country”.
- 25 Eric Schmitt, International Herald Tribune, 21st April 2004. Among the details included in his repo (...)
“their remarks reflect[ed] a growing anger and frustration among many senior US commanders that the policy [was] excluding many of the skilled Iraqi professionals needed to help the country's political and economic reconstruction, especially in the restive Sunni heartland, even as US officials [were] seeking to broker a transfer to Iraqi sovereignty after June 30”25.
- 26 The Iraqi newspaper Al-Sabah, 5th April 2004.
39Even Mithal Al-Alusi, Director General of the de-Baathification Commission, announced in early April 2004 that new exemptions from the de-Baathification process would be granted. The reason, he said, was that the aim of the new regime was “to create a normal atmosphere in the state apparatus, free from any tensions which could lead to the obstruction of the reconstruction process”26.
- 27 Al-Hayat, 16th April 2004.
40In other words, there was a growing number of people implicitly distinguishing between an ideological programme of collective punishment and a legal project aimed at holding individuals to account for their crimes in the hope of reinforcing Iraq’s national unity, or at least preventing its further disintegration. When the United States decided reluctantly to allow the United Nations to take part in its efforts in Iraq, de-Baathification was one of the subjects of which the UN Secretary General’s adviser Lakhdar Brahimi expressed his disapproval. At a press conference in Baghdad Brahimi explained his view that “it is difficult to comprehend the dismissal of thousands of teachers, university professors, healthcare workers, engineers and other professionals of whom we are now in urgent need”. “In most cases”, he added accusingly, “prisoners are being held without charges or trial. They must either be charged or released, and their families and their lawyers have the right to see them”27.
- 28 See the press of 2nd May, 2004.
41A few days after Brahimi’s visit, under the pressure of having to revise earlier policies, in the light of mounting American and Iraqi casualties and with the US presidential elections fast approaching, Paul Bremer’s CPA made two significant changes. On the one hand it began to relax the de-Baathification programme, and on the other it accelerated the process of giving dismissed government employees their jobs back, especially teachers. It also reconsidered the forces of the dissolved Iraqi Army and announced the formation of a Falluja Brigade, under the leadership of Major General Jasim Muhammad Salih. His role was to enter the Sunni city of Falluja, instead of the Americans, and to impose order there28.
42Despite all this, it was natural that certain voices, such as that of the right-wing British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, should continue to express their commitment to de-Baathification. In an editorial letter written when terrorist actions in Iraq had reached a peak, the newspaper asserted that “the spate of highly co-ordinated terrorist attacks in Iraq yesterday…had all the hallmarks of Baathist tradecraft, notably of the Special Republican Guard units that melted away during the Allied military operations of 2003”. The newspaper, known for its sympathy with the American neo-conservatives’ agenda, went on to say that
- 29 The Daily Telegraph, 25th June 2004.
“the task of winning over the Arab Sunnis to the new order has not been made any easier by the terms of the deal cut in April with the insurgents, allowing them an easy exit and then handing over security to Baathist military officers who are often in collision with the terrorists”29.
- 30 Eric Posner, International Herald Tribune, 29th April 2004.
43The same was also true of Ahmad Chalabi, who clung despite everything to his version of events, arguing that giving jobs to former Baathists was like “allowing Nazis into the German government immediately after World War II”30.
44Evidently Chalabi lacked any accurate knowledge of what had actually taken place in Germany after the war and was oblivious to the fact that the Nuremburg trials were regarded by Germans as victors’ justice. As a result of this, the Allies’ list of Germans accused of war crimes, which had originally included some 4 900 names, was cut to a mere 854 individuals. However, Chalabi was unaware of what the Americans themselves had done in a country such as Japan under the pressure of pragmatic considerations and what they considered, rightly or wrongly, to be in civilians’ interests. General MacArthur had gambled on being able to widen the gap between the Japanese Emperor and the militarists by presenting the Emperor as their victim. Even though all the evidence suggested that Hirohito had been an ardent supporter of Japan’s military exploits in Asia and its later involvement in the Second World War, all the blame was heaped on the country’s wicked generals alone. According to the American version of events, they had not been content simply to lead the peace-loving people of Japan astray : they had deceived the pacifist Emperor himself. In this way Hirohito was turned into a symbol of Japan’s innocence : had he instead been tried for war crimes, the entire structure of government would have collapsed and a mass uprising would inevitably have ensued.
45Indeed, the American military administration in Japan went even further than this. Rather than simply protecting the Emperor from prosecution as a war criminal, it actually prevented him from being summoned as a witness in the trials of others for war crimes, and demanded that these trials take place in Tokyo so that the witnesses and defence lawyers would never even mention his name. When General Tojo, one of the accused, contravened this principle and asked which Japanese could possibly have opposed the will of the Emperor, he was asked to alter his testimony. Hirohito was, in the final analysis, the “first gentleman of Japan”, as MacArthur called him (Dower, 1999).
- 31 Al-Hayat, 12th January 2004.
46To return to Iraq, where all along the most consistent voice of opposition to de-Baathification had been that of the Iraqi National Accord (INA), led by the head of the interim government Iyad ‘Allawi and comprising moderate Shiites as well as Sunnis. ‘Allawi himself was a pragmatic former Baathist who had fled Baghdad in the mid-1970s and established himself in London. There he formed an opposition group which co-operated with the CIA and embraced many other repentant former Baathists. ‘Allawi, whose fierce competition with Ahmad Chalabi was exacerbated by the latter’s links to the Pentagon, believed that de-Baathification failed to distinguish between Baathist leaders and criminals, and that this had driven many Baathists to participate in armed action against the Coalition Forces. The INA repeatedly described de-Baathification as a ‘sterile’ policy destined to thwart “all plans aimed at fostering a culture of tolerance”. In ‘Allawi’s eyes the question was not so much one of eradicating the Baath as of eradicating the former regime’s legacy of terror, and this would only be achieved through putting Baathist criminals on trial. The leaders of the INA did not deny their willingness to accept other former Baathists, although they would consider each case individually31.
- 32 Al-Hayat, 20th January 2004.
47With the formation of the IGC, ‘Allawi and the Sunni politician ‘Adnan Pachachi became the leading figures calling for a comprehensive national reconciliation that would include Baathists who had committed no actions that could be categorised as ‘criminal’. The opposite view was represented by Chalabi and Muwaffaq Al-Rabi‘i, another Shiite politician. The latter subsequently expressed “opinions which reflected a retreat from his opposition to the reconciliation agenda”32. ‘Allawi had written an article in the Washington Post outlining his position which was translated in numerous Arabic newspapers. In it he claimed that “the US policy of de-Baathification [was] hampering the restoration of political and economic life in Iraq” and that the policy could create a culture of “false accusations” and “cronyism”. In describing the effects of de-Baathification he wrote that
- 33 The Washington Post, 28th December 2003.
“overnight we saw most of the civil bureaucracy disbanded and many honest civil servants unjustly sent home penniless… At a single stroke we also sent home 400,000 Iraqi soldiers, most of them patriots, and in the process created a vacuum in which insurgents, terrorists and criminals have flourished’. ‘Allawi also warned that ‘thousands of teachers have been fired recently”33.
- 34 See Al-Hayat of 20th January 2004, for example.
48However, ‘Allawi’s position was not an easy one to maintain amid the escalating terrorist atrocities and the involvement of Baathists in them, prompted partly – as explained above – by de-Baathification. As a result, ‘Allawi’s policy within the IGC oscillated between the use of the carrot and the stick. Press reports indicated that this vacillation weakened ‘Allawi’s position on de-Baathification relative to that of his rival Chalabi34.
49During the ceremonies to mark the handover of power to the new Iraqi government, ‘Allawi gave a speech reflecting this ambivalence. He threatened Baathists who were not implicated in Saddam’s crimes, but who refused to co-operate with the new Iraqi authorities against the terrorists. The next day it was said that his speech had come as “a great relief to the parties which supported the de-Baathification campaign”, and that the reason for ‘Allawi’s position was that he had been shocked by the reports he had received which stated that the Baathists who had been allowed to return to their jobs had become “spies”, working against him and against the new situation in the country. An unnamed INA source was quoted as saying that “Baathist networks have been formed to gather intelligence on security affairs for the agencies of the former regime, which pass the information on to the terrorist groups”. According to the same source,
- 35 Al-Hayat, 29th and 30th June 2004.
“many Baathists have been contacted by members of the old regime and tasked with carrying out surveillance missions on key targets, including monitoring the movements of members of the dissolved IGC and leaders of the main political parties and the present government”35.
- 36 The Guardian, 5th July 2004.
- 37 The International Herald Tribune, 5th August 2004.
50Nonetheless, in an apparent u-turn on the policy of de-Baathification, ‘Allawi announced an amnesty for everyone who had fought against the American forces. His new government held the view that “opposition to the American occupation could be “justified’’36. ‘Allawi said that the amnesty would be extended even to those who had been accessories to murder, although not to murderers themselves37. The New York Times had previously reported that
- 38 The New York Times, 11th July 2004.
“Mr Allawi and other government officials say he has been meeting with former Baath Party members in the resistance and tribal leaders to convince them that their interests and those of foreign fighters are not the same. “We are negotiating with what I call the non-criminals, those who never really were the hard core like Zarqawi and his aides and the Al-Qa’ida-style people”, Mr. Allawi said in an interview. “And on the other hand, be very firm with the criminals and the assassins and the killers and the terrorists”38.
- 39 See the press of 8th-10th August 2004.
51This, it seemed, was to be official policy in Iraq now that the Iraqis had taken over power, or at least some of it. Despite the resumption of Muqtada Al-Sadr’s uprising in Najaf, when the Iraqi judiciary brought charges of forging money against Ahmad Chalabi and had his offices searched and his computers impounded, it seemed proof – albeit of light weight – that there was no going back on the new approach39. The most important aspect of this approach, in ‘Allawi’s eyes, was its utilitarian value in helping to destroy the activities of the armed resistance.
- 40 See Edward Wong and Erik Eckholm.
52In the end Baghdad and Washington both retreated from the policy of de-Baathification without much of a fuss. In September 2004 ‘Allawi issued a decree dissolving the de-Baathification Commission and replacing it with a more flexible judicial system. He demanded that his ministers cease to have dealings with the former commission and made it more complicated for its members to enter the ‘Green Zone’, the fortified administrative area at the heart of Baghdad. Finally he demanded that the members of the commission leave their offices40.
- 41 Agence France Presse, 31st July 2004.
- 42 The Wall Street Journal, 2nd July 2004.
53Meanwhile the most radical Iraqi politician had not backed down one inch. Ahmad Chalabi’s relationship with Washington had by now collapsed amid accusations by senior American officials that he had leaked intelligence to Iran which had led to the killing of Americans. In an interview with the Spanish daily El País, Chalabi stated that “the first thing that must be done is to abandon this plan, which aims to reintegrate the Baathists”. As for the ‘resistance’, Chalabi insisted that Baathists alone were directing it and he dismissed all talk of local people, Islamist fundamentalists or foreign terrorists being involved41. However, only one day after the publication of this interview F.J. Bing West, a former deputy of the American Defence Secretary during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, wrote that ‘Sunni tribes north and west of Baghdad comprise the insurgency’42.
54Naturally, the retreat from de-Baathification caused anger in Shia circles43. This reached the point where Jawad Al-Maliki, Vice-President of the Islamic Da‘wa Party, claimed that ‘Allawi’s conduct in dismantling the de-Baathification programme was ‘outside the law’ and that the commission had every right to “remove all traces of the Baathists”44. However, the battle was practically over. The in-fighting among those who had been responsible for overseeing the de-Baathification programme was all that was needed to complete the unhappy end of this policy, which had been fatally flawed from its inception. The final chapter came at the end of the summer of 2004, when Mithal Al-Alusi, the former Director General of the de-Baathification Commission, travelled to Israel to attend a conference in Herzliya on counter-terrorism. Ahmad Chalabi expelled Al-Alusi from the INC, and Al-Alusi responded by announcing that he was resigning in any case45. It was probably Chalabi’s sensitivity to Shiite opinion, which was to be his new vehicle to power, which led him to take this step, since he himself had traditionally been well known for his close relationship with the Israelis, and especially the Likud. Al-Alusi was replaced by ‘Ali Faisal Al-Lami, who was also a member of the radical Shiite Hezbollah.
55However, the real question was neither one of Chalabi’s would-be “conspiracy”, nor of the ‘wisdom’ which ‘Allawi was so keen to demonstrate. One month after the appointment of the latter’s government it seemed that it would need some extraordinary soap-powder to get rid of the accumulated filth. The New York Times, for example, reported that “former Baathists who were readmitted to the government without enough precautions can aid the insurgency from within”. The newspaper also mentioned that in September 2004 the US Army had detained ‘Brigadier General Talib “Abid Ghayib Al-Lahibi, who had been assigned to command three Iraqi National Guard battalions in the restive Diyala province” on charges of having “associations with known insurgents”. In August 2004, the newspaper reported,
“marines arrested the police chief of Anbar province, which includes the jihadist stronghold of Falluja, and began investigating him for suspected ties to the insurgency. The police chief, Ja‘dan Muhammad ‘Alwan, was a high-ranking Baathist during the Hussein years”.
- 46 Wong and Eckholm in the New York Times, 13th October 2004.
56As for the Falluja Brigade, it quickly withered under pressure from the insurgency and disbanded over the summer of 2004, with many of its members actually joining the guerrillas46.
57Events such as these were testimony to the fact that Iraq’s problems – which de-Baathification had been unable to address – had become too complicated to be solved merely by reversing the policy of de-Baathification. Ultimately what mattered was not the death of de-Baathification, but the birth of the new Iraq. Yet after such a terrible gestation, it was to be feared that a safe delivery would prove extremely difficult.
58Londres, avril 2005