At the end of April 2010, the banned Baath Party of Iraq held a conference in Damascus, Syria. The meeting was hosted by Mohammed Yunis al-Ahmad, the former governor of Ninewa under Saddam Hussein’s regime, who leads a Syrian faction of Baathists. In mid-2009 Ahmad was blamed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for masterminding the August bombings of Iraq’s Foreign and Finance Ministries in Baghdad. One goal of the conference was to try to re-unite with Ibrahim al-Duri, Saddam’s vice president, who operates within Iraq and is an insurgent leader. Duri refused to attend however. Azzaman newspaper reported that he might be afraid that Ahmad was only interested in infiltrating his faction, and trying to take it over.
At the end of the meeting in early May, a statement was issued trying to appeal to the people of Iraq. It said that the Baath party should not be blamed for the mistakes of its leaders, but rather be remembered for what it accomplished. It went on to say that the party should apologize to Iraq’s citizenry for its transgressions. The announcement also claimed that Ahmad was willing to participate in Iraq’s political process. His faction has been known to hold talks with the Americans in Syria about reconciliation, and joining the new Iraq. The problem was the meeting didn’t seem to think that the Baathists had made any mistakes as a speech by Ahmad and others portrayed Saddam Hussein as a martyr, praised his leadership, and said that their armed resistance was legitimate. All of these drew applause from the audience.
The conference failed to achieve any of its goals. First the Ahmad and Duri factions are still split. Ahmad seems to only curry favor with Baathist exiles, and is willing to compromise with the Americans and Baghdad to return to Iraq, while Duri is more militant and holds sway with insurgent groups within the country. The conciliatory statement at the end of the meeting is also not likely to win any friends, as the Baath Party did not actually apologize, speakers talked again and again about Saddam as a great leader, and they celebrated the insurgency. Overall, the Baath party is no longer a threat to the new Iraq. Many Iraqis however, are still fearful of its return since the wounds are still fresh from years of Saddam’s rule, the insurgency still includes former regime members, and Baathism is used by the country’s leading parties to rally support as is currently happening with the banning of candidates from the March 2010 parliamentary elections. Attempts at reconciliation were actually going on with talks conducted by both the Americans and Maliki’s government in 2009, but those were derailed by the on-going deBaathification controversy. In the end, some sort of peace deal with the Baathists may not even be necessary as they may fade away of their own accord as Iraqi politics continue to develop and the insurgency follows its steady decline.
Agence France Presse, “Iraq’s banned Baath holds first public meeting in Syria,” 4/29/10
AK News, “Al-Dori denies holding “reconciliation” meeting with Yunis Al-Ahmad,” 5/2/10
Aswat al-Iraq, “Baath made mistakes, should apologize to Iraqis – Baathist,” 5/4/10
Sands, Phil, “Iraq’s banned Baathists bring little to the party but bluster,” The National, 5/7/10
Al-Shawfi, Mundhir, “Former Baath party chief wants ‘united front’ in Iraq,” Azzaman, 4/26/10