Sunday, May 29, 2011

Iraq’s Divisive DeBaathification Official Gunned Down In Baghdad

Ali al-Lami, executive director of Iraq's Accountability and Justice Commission was assassinated in Baghdad (Agence France Presse)
On May 26, 2011 the executive director of the Accountability and Justice Commission, which replaced the old deBaathification Commission, Ali al-Lami was gunned down in Baghdad. Lami was traveling back to his home in Sadr City when a car cut him off, gunmen with silencers jumped out, and shot him in the head. He was pronounced dead 20 minutes later in a nearby hospital. Lami is the most prominent government official to be killed in a rash of assassinations that have been happening in the country for the last several months.

There have been a slew of accusations over who was responsible for Lami’s death. At his funeral procession in Najaf, the secretary of the Accountability and Justice Commission Mothaffar al-Batat blamed the United States and the ruling coalition. He claimed that the country’s major parties wanted to return Baathists to power after the 2010 elections, and made statements attacking the Commission’s work. Lami himself had been saying that the Americans were plotting to kill him since mid-2010, because he opposed their plan to bring back former regime members. A parliamentarian from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of law said the assassination was a message from the Baathists. A lawmaker from Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement was quoted as saying that his death was a sign of the divisions that the deBaathification process had caused in the country. Until someone claims responsibility for the hit, it is nearly impossible to determine who was behind Lami’s murder. Iranian-backed Shiite Special Groups, Al Qaeda, and Sunni insurgents have all been involved in assassinations, with the assistance of political parties and the security forces this year. What is known for sure is that Lami had compiled a long list of enemies due to his work with the Accountability and Justice Commission.

Lami was born in Baghdad in 1964. He received a BA and MA in Mathematics. He became an opponent of Saddam Hussein, and was arrested several times as a result. Those included detention during the 1991 Shiite uprising following the Gulf War, and again in 1999 when Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr was killed by the government.

After the U.S. invasion, Lami became the executive director of the DeBaathification Commission in January 2004 under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). He was under the Chairmanship of Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, which had played a pivotal role in convincing the Americans to invade Iraq in 2003. The CPA’s deBaathification rules were only supposed to apply to the top 4% of the Baath party, but instead it was applied to a wide range of officials and members of the security forces. It also led to sectarian tensions as Sunnis felt like the Commission was targeting them, while Shiites with Baathist pasts were allowed to work in the government. In January 2008, parliament passed the Accountability and Justice Law to replace the CPA order. The committee to implement the law was never formed however, so the old members of the deBaathification Commission such as Lami and Chalabi simply retained their positions and authority.

In August 2008 Lami was arrested by American forces, accused of working with Special Groups in an attack in Baghdad. Lami was picked up at the Baghdad airport after a trip to Lebanon on a fake passport. The U.S. claimed he worked with Shiite militants to carry out a bombing in Sadr City, Baghdad on June 24, 2008 that killed six members of the local district council, two American soldiers, and two U.S. civilians. In February 2010, then commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno said that Lami was a Sadrist who had contact with Abu Mahdi Muhandis, one of the leaders of the Khataib Hezbollah Brigades, an Iranian backed Special Group. Muhandis is said to be an adviser on Iraq to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force commander General Qassim Suleimani. Lami was also supposed to have ties with another group supported by Tehran, the League of the Righteous. In June 2008, Iraqi and U.S. soldiers, along with American civilians held a meeting with local officials in Sadr City. When they were leaving, their cars were struck by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). General Odierno claimed that he had intelligence directly linking Lami to the attack. They did not have enough evidence to prosecute him however.

In July 2009 Lami was released. (1) The U.S. originally claimed that it was part of its withdrawal process from Iraq where it had to turn over prisoners it held to the Iraqis or let them go. Feeing him was actually part of a deal worked out between Baghdad and Washington to get a British contractor and his security guards released by the League of the Righteous, and for them to agree to a cease-fire and reconciliation. Afterward, Lami was interviewed by McClatchy Newspapers, and claimed that he had been subjected to psychological and physical abuse for three months in a secret facility before being transferred to Camp Cropper in Baghdad. He said that he was the Iraqi National Congress’ liaison with the Sadrists, but denied any involvement with Special Groups.
While Lami was trying to ban candidates in the 2010 election he was running for office as well (AP)
After being freed Lami went right back to work at the Accountability and Justice Commission, and played a disruptive role in the 2010 parliamentary elections. In January 2010 the Commission announced that it was banning over 500 candidates for alleged ties to the Baath Party. They included prominent politicians such as Salah al-Mutlaq, a leader within the Iraqi National Movement, Dhafir al-Ani, the head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, and Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Mohammad Jassim Obeidi. Lami tried his best to maintain the bans. The next month, the Commission stated that it would dismiss 376 soldiers as well. Eventually a deal was worked out to allow a few banned candidates to run, while the rest were replaced. The Commission then went after 55 of the replacements as well, six of which won seats to parliament. They along with three other victorious candidates who were threatened with deBaathification were all eventually allowed to take their seats. General Odierno charged Lami of pushing this agenda at the behest of Iran, and during the whole process Chalabi and Lami were candidates for the Iraqi National Alliance. Chalabi won a seat in parliament, while Lami lost.

Lami had a controversial career to say the least. He went from being a U.S. ally with the Iraqi National Congress to being accused of being a tool of the Iranians. He helped spread sectarian tensions through his work with the deBaathification and Accountability and Justice Commissions, and he nearly derailed the 2010 parliamentary elections as well. Given that history many groups might have wanted him dead from rival politicians to insurgent groups. Even in death, he has led to more divisions, as his allies have accused some of the leading parties and the Americans of complicity in his murder. His killers are unlikely to be found, and ultimately his death will go down as just the latest sign of the political violence that is besetting Iraq.


1. Tu’mah, Abd-al-Wahid, “One British hostage set to be released in Iraq, ‘before the end of the week’ – paper,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, 7/8/09


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- “The Reign of Terror Continues in Iraq,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 2/2/10
- “Why Ad Hoc De-Baathification Will Derail the Process of Democratization in Iraq,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 1/8/10


Anonymous said...

It sounds like he would have done better to stick with a career in mathematics.


Joel Wing said...

I think Saddam kind of derailed that path. After the U.S. invasion, Lami seemed to get caught up in his powerful position and maintaining it.

Anonymous said...

This guy was a real troublemaker, and he certainly wasn't doing any good with the position he was in. He fueled a lot of secretarianism.

Joel Wing said...

You can say that again