At the end of 2011, the Iraqi government began arresting and dismissing people they claimed were Baathists, setting off a political storm. It started when over a hundred staff and faculty from the University of Tikrit in Salahaddin were fired for alleged Baathist ties, followed by over 600 former regime members being detained. This crackdown led to a political crisis with the Prime Minister on the one hand, and the Iraqi National Movement (INM) and a few provinces on the other, which the country is still muddling through to this day. Maliki has since begun to release some of these prisoners to key political leaders to reward them for being willing to cooperate with him. Rather than being a sectarian conflict between the Shiite prime minister and a Sunni political party and provinces, this controversy really started as an internal rivalry within Maliki’s State of Law party that drew in the entire country.
|Higher Education Minister Adeeb, not Premier Maliki was the one that started the anti-Baathist campaign in late 2011, which would throw the entire country into a political crisis (Daawa Thi Qar)|
The crackdown on alleged Baathists actually began with the Higher Education Minister, rather than Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In July 2011, reports emerged that Higher Education Minister Ali al-Adeeb, who is part of the premier’s State of Law party, was planning on firing former members of the old regime. In October, he started by claiming that his predecessor, Abdul Dhiyab al-Ugayli of the Iraqi Islamic Party, was a Baathist and that his administration had to be reversed. Adeeb then dismissed 140 members of the Tikrit University in Salahaddin, quoting the Accountability and Justice Law, which replaced the deBaathification law, as his justification. The Minister claimed that all those that were fired were former Baathists, and some were from Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agencies. That set off a storm, because the work of the Accountability and Justice Commission was suspended as part of the power sharing agreement that put together the new government in December 2010. The event also helped push Salahaddin towards wanting to become an autonomous region. Rather than being the first strike by the Prime Minister against his Sunni rivals, as many portrayed the event, it appeared that Adeeb was acting on his own. In fact, the Higher Education Minister is known as a rival with Maliki within the State of Law list. There have been several occasions for instance, where his name has been brought up as a possible replacement for Maliki. The differences between the two were highlighted when a member of State of Law accused Adeeb of lying when he said he was enforcing the Accountability Commission’s decisions.
|Some of the alleged Baathists rounded up by Maliki in response to Adeeb's actions, while they confessed to various crimes on state run television, Nov. 2011 (Radio Free Iraq)|
Not to be outdone by Adeeb, Maliki quickly went into action by arresting hundreds of alleged Baathists across the country. A total of 655 people were detained. The press reported that Libyan rebels passed onto the Iraqi government that Muammar Qaddafi was backing a Baathist coup, and that was the cause of the arrests. By mid-November 2011, the government trotted out some of the prisoners who confessed on television to committing various acts of terrorism. The authorities would claim they were behind up to 3,300 deaths over the last several years. Legal problems with the crackdown were immediately apparent by the shifting rational given for it. First, the government claimed that people were being picked up for promoting the Baath Party, which is outlawed. Then they talked about the rank of each person, probably because the Accountability and Justice Law bans certain levels of Baathists. The problem is the legislation does not say that is a legal basis for arrest, just the denial of government jobs. The temporary head of the Accountability Commission chimed in by criticizing the detentions, saying that many were made without warrants, and demanding that any innocents rounded up should be released. Finally, the security forces began bringing up a counterterrorism law as the justification. Iraq lacks true rule of law, and this situation brought that fact to the fore. The authorities’ ever changing rational showed that the security forces can often arrest people for whatever reason they want. In this case, it was Maliki’s desire to outdo Adeeb by fighting a straw man, the return of Baathism in Iraq.
Maliki releasing some of the prisoners, and halting Adeeb’s decision in Salahaddin showed the political nature of this crackdown. At the end of 2011, the prime minister cut a deal with Jamal al-Karbuli, the head of the Solution Movement within Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement (INM), to let 50 accused Baathists out of jail. In return, Karbuli never had his ministers follow the National Movement’s boycott of the cabinet. The next month, Maliki came to another agreement with Education Minister Mohammed Tamim of Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi National Dialogue Front, which is also part of the INM. Tamim received 43 prisoners from his home province of Tamim. Then in March, 88 accused Baathists from Baghdad and 31 from Wasit were handed over to White Iraqiya. That party had consistently stood by the prime minister during his dispute with the National Movement. Finally, in early 2012, Maliki said he would not enforce Adeeb’s dismissals at Tikrit University in an attempt to appease Salahaddin’s provincial council so they would not move to make the governorate an autonomous region. The vast majority of press reports portrayed Adeeb and Maliki’s actions as sectarian attacks by Shiites upon Sunnis. The same thing occurred with Salahaddin’s autonomy drive, and the prime minister’s battle with the Iraqi National Movement. What these all missed was the fact that the Education Minister and the premier were rivals, and the former was not going to let the latter out do him in a contest over who was more anti-Baathist. Not only that, but the slow release of 212 people accused of terrorist attacks and killing thousands, and the reversal of Adeeb’s firings both showed that those were political actions rather than anything to do with the law or securing the country.
Iraq has deep political divisions. This is commonly portrayed as sectarian, but that overlooks the conflicts within parties. Education Minister Adeeb and Prime Minister Maliki have been rivals within the State of Law list for several years now, and it was the tension between them that led to the dismissal and arrest of alleged Baathists. None of their actions appeared to be legal, but was rather the result of powerful politicians manipulating their positions to increase or maintain their standings within their party and with their constituents. In the end, the prime minister came out on top as shown by his release of over 200 alleged Baathists to politicians he favored, and the reversal of Adeeb’s decision in Salahaddin. The fact that their personal rivalry led to a political crisis between the State of Law and the Iraqi National Movement, and between the central government and some provinces shows how fragile Iraq’s politics are. Maliki has been able to weather the storm, because he has more power than Adeeb, the INM is weak and divided, and he has control of the courts and security forces to hold off the provincial drives for greater autonomy. The country is still pulling itself out of this mess today as a result. Unfortunately, this will not be the last time this happens as politicians are continually vying for power, and trying to test the limits of the system to see how far they can push it to achieve their goals.
Alsumaria, “Iraq former Education Minister accused of running ministry under Baathist direction,” 10/21/11
Arango, Tim, “Rebels Said to Find Qaddafi Tie in Plot Against Iraq,” New York Times, 10/26/11
Aswat al-Iraq, “Salahuddin province declares administrative and economic region,” 10/27/11
Dare, Najla, “Internal exposure Confessions cell in the Baath Party,” Radio Free Iraq, 11/21/11
Al-Hassani, Mustafa, “Sharp differences between the writer and al-Maliki about the nomination of the latter as prime minister for a third term,” Shat News, 1/7/12
Najm, Hayder, “fall guy,” Niqash, 4/1/10
Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 26,” 11/16/11
- “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 32,” 2/9/12
- “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 33,” 2/29/12
- “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 34,” 3/14/12
Tayyeb, Mohammed, “Official criticizes govt. for delaying Baathist trials,” AK News, 11/10/11
Waleed, Khaled, “no more baaths: wiping out saddam or starting the next civil war?” Niqash, 10/27/11