Binge and Purge
Two years ago or so, I asked Kanan Makiya —the complex Iraqi dissident intellectual who did so much to rid the world of Saddam Hussein—about the blunders of the U.S. occupation. He didn’t pause before citing de-Baathification as the single biggest error the U.S. and successive Iraqi governments committed. De-Baathification, in the hands of a sectarian government, had become de-Sunnification, in both perception and reality, convincing Sunnis that they had no stake in the future of Iraq. His answer was more than a little ironic. As an adviser to the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project in 2002, Makiya had advocated the creation of a de-Baathification committee modeled after South Africa’s post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And in practice, the de-Baathification commission that Makiya lambasted was headed by Ahmed Chalabi, Makiya’s political patron.
Reversing the de-Baathification commission’s purges has been an official U.S. priority since Congress made it one of the famous "benchmarks" for progress on sectarian reconciliation last year. And earlier this month, it seemed hope was on the way: after a pronounced delay, the Shiite-led Iraqi parliament finally passed a law aimed at scaling back de-Baathification. Only the Sunnis didn’t get any reassurance from the law. The closer they looked, the more they realized it not only didn’t provide for the reinstatement of Sunnis purged from government service—remember that Iraq has always had a command economy, so no government service means no livelihood , a point often difficult for Americans to understand—but it might even allow for further purges. One Sunni parliamentarian called it "a sword on the neck of the people."
The Washington Post takes a closer look today:
More than a dozen Iraqi lawmakers, U.S. officials and former Baathists here and in exile expressed concern in interviews that the law could set off a new purge of ex-Baathists, the opposite of U.S. hopes for the legislation.Approved by parliament this month under pressure from U.S. officials, the law was heralded by Iraq’s presidency council, acknowledge that its impact is hard to assess from its text and will depend on how it is implemented. Some say the law’s primary aim is not to return ex-Baathists to work, but to recognize and compensate those harmed by the party. Of the law’s eight stated justifications, none mentions reinstating ex-Baathists to their jobs."The law is about as clear as mud," said one U.S. senior diplomat.
Once again, the law itself allows for a seven-member commission to determine how exactly to implement its measures. That commission is picked by the sectarian Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki and confirmed by the Shiite-dominated parliament. If there’s one thing the de-Baathification commission experience instructs, it’s that discretion built into a law in a country with no rule of law and fratricidal sectarianism is a designed-in guarantee of corruption.
And it might even be worse than that. A former Saddam-era Iraqi military officer believes that if he exercises his options under the law, he’ll be marking himself for street justice from a Shiite death squad.
Kareem, who was a senior Baath Party member, said the new law does grant him the right to a pension, which would greatly benefit his family. He has not had a steady salary in five years, and has been living off the charity of friends and relatives, but said he would not attempt to claim the pension."This law is bait," he said. "I have to go back to Basra and apply for the pension through several measures. If I get killed, nobody will know who did it."
It’s worth remembering that the men who will kill Kareem are the same people that U.S. troops are dying in Iraq to keep in power.