Monday, June 20, 2011

Al Qaeda In Iraq Behind DeBaathification Leader’s Death

Al Qaeda In Iraq has claimed responsibility for Ali al-Lami's assassination (Agence France Presse/Getty Images)
At the end of May 2011, Ali al-Lami, the Director General of the Accountability and Justice Commission was gunned down in Baghdad. It was the highest profile assassination in Iraq’s on-going campaign against government officials and members of the security forces. Initially, it seemed that the Baathists were behind his death, but recently Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility.

On June 17, 2011 Al Qaeda in Iraq’s front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, said it was behind the assassination of the Director General of the Accountability and Justice Commission Ali al-Lami. Lami was assassinated on May 26, while driving home in Baghdad. The Accountability and Justice Commission replaced the DeBaathification Commission, originally created by the United States in 2004. The Islamic State claimed that they killed Lami for his ties to Iran, for his campaign against Sunnis during the deBaathification process, and for being an apostate. Al Qaeda calls Shiites apostates for not following the Sunni sect of Islam.

Back on May 31, it was announced that the security forces arrested a suspect in Lami’s murder. He was allegedly a former intelligence officer under Saddam Hussein, and was captured in Taji, Salahaddin. His past profession, and the location of his detention suggested that the possible culprit was a member of the Baathist Naqshibani insurgent group, which is still quite active in Iraq. That was dispelled by the Islamic State’s announcement on its website. Outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta recently told Congress that there were around 1,000 Al Qaeda operatives still in Iraq. The organization tends to focus upon high value targets like Lami and the storming of Salahaddin’s provincial council building on March 29. That’s because it is a shell of its former self, and no longer poses a threat to the state. It therefore carries out propaganda operations to make it seem relevant, and to keep its name in the media so that it can raise money from abroad, which is also declining.

Lami’s supporters on the other hand, are trying to milk his death for their own ends, Mothaffar al-Batat, for example, the secretary of the Accountability and Justice Commission has been quite vocal since Lami’s death, and implied that he was killed so that Iyad Allawi and his Iraqi National Movement could bring Baathists back to power. The Accountability and Justice and DeBaathification Commissions were both known for going after Sunnis and Iraqi nationalists, which the National Movement largely represents. During the 2010 parliamentary elections, Lami almost single-handedly derailed them when he banned over 500 candidates for alleged ties to the Baath party, while he was running for office himself. Many of those targeted were Sunni and nationalist politicians.

It was a bit odd at first that no one would claim responsibility for such a high-profile assassination at first. Iraq has seen a wave of highly targeted, political murders in the last several months, but the hit on Lami was the most prominent so far. It took just over three weeks for any group to come forward for his death, but when the Islamic State finally did, it should not have been a surprise. Lami was exactly the type of target they specialize in, because it gained national and international media attention. Al Qaeda could also use it to show that they were still a prominent militant group even though they’ve been reduced to headline chasing terrorists. The Islamists are fading in Iraq, but unfortunately, it will take several more years for them to die off. In the meantime, more attacks and assassinations such as Lami’s will remain their modus operandi.


Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Al-Qaida claims killing of anti-Saddam purger,” Associated Press, 6/17/11

Agence France Presse, “Iraq arrests suspect in anti-Baath chief murder,” 5/31/11

Brosk, Raman, “JAC secretary: Iraqiya List paves the way for Baathists,” AK News, 6/8/11

Kenner, David, “Panetta: 1,000 al Qaeda terrorists still in Iraq,” The Cable, Foreign Policy, 6/9/11

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