Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is The DeBaathification Crisis In Iraq’s Election Over?

There are conflicting reports about the future of the Accountability and Justice Commission and its attempt to ban candidates from Iraq’s March 2010 parliamentary election. The New York Times reported on May 11, 2010 that Iraq’s political leadership had reached a deal to end the work of the Commission. According to Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani and the U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill there will be no more banning of candidates, and the current cases will all be dropped. The Commission head Ahmad Chalabi was quoted as saying the same, and that he would not stand in the way of the appeals of nine winning candidates whose cases are now in court. That would mean that they would all be cleared and the plurality won by Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement would be preserved. The Associated Press and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty however noted statements by the Executive Director of the Commission Ali al-Lami saying that the future of the nine candidates is still up in the air, and that he believed that their cases would fail in court and they would indeed be disqualified.

The Accountability and Justice Commission, which replaced the deBaathification Commission, started banning hundreds of candidates for alleged ties with Iraq’s outlawed Baath Party beginning in January 2010. They represented fifteen different parties, most of which were secular and nationalist such as Allawi’s and Interior Minister Jawad Bolani’s Unity of Iraq Alliance. After the first wave of 500 candidates were disqualified, the Commission announced that 52 others were banned after the election, two of which won seats, and nine other victorious candidates were also up for deBaathification. If that last round of politicians were been banned, it would give Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law list the largest number of seats in the new parliament, and empower him in negotiations with other parties.

According to Chalabi, the entire deBaathification fiasco was meant to stand up to the Americans. He claimed that the U.S. was intent on bringing Sunni Baathists back into government. Chalabi was probably referring to a number of talks that the CIA and others were conducting with Baathists in Yemen, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey in 2009. None of the talks led to anything substantial however.

Much more likely, the deBaathification crisis was used by the Iraqi National Alliance to derail any discussions of real issues before the election, and make it about a non-existent boogey man instead, the Baath Party. Both Chalabi and Lami were candidates for the National Alliance. The list was made up of the Sadrists, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Party, Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, and a number of other smaller parties. The Alliance lacked any ideological coherence other than being led by Shiites that were opposed to Prime Minister Maliki. Since it had nothing to run on, it used the fear of Baathism as its main campaign platform. It was so successful in that endeavor that Maliki ended up joining the witch-hunt rather than opposing it. Having served its purpose, deBaathification can now be dropped as the lists negotiate a new Iraqi government. Since it proved its usefulness, it’s unlikely to rear its ugly head again, until some of Iraq’s Shiite leaders need it once again to rally the fears of the public against the ghost of Saddam Hussein.

SOURCES

Santana, Rebecca, “Iraqi vetting commission to end election work,” Associated Press, 5/12/10

Shadid, Anthony, “Iraqi Deal to End De-Baathification,” New York Times, 5/11/10

Synovitz, Ron, “Iraqi Election Hinges On Court Ruling On Banned Candidates,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 5/12/10

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