Saturday, June 28, 2008

New DeBaathification Law

In January 2008 Iraq’s parliament voted on a new de-Baathification act called the Accountability and Justice Law. On February 2 the law passed through the Presidential Council and became law. This was the first major legislative benchmark that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government had passed since it came into power in 2006. The law was held up as a sign that Baghdad was finally taking advantage of the political space created by the surge and moving towards reconciliation. The legislation has not been enacted however. The original de-Baathification order was a major source of sectarian division in Iraq, and the failure of the new law to go into effect shows that Maliki’s government still has a long way to go to heal those wounds.

History of the DeBaathificiation Process

The first major order that Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority issued when it came into existence in 2003 was CPA Order 1 “The De-Baathification of Iraqi Society” that banned the top three levels of the Baath party from work within post-Saddam Iraq. The idea was that the old order needed to be swept away as the U.S. did in Germany after World War II with the Nazis. The law however, was never applied evenly or fairly, and had an effect far past the top three echelons of Baathists. Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress was put in charge of the de-Baathification committee and used it against not only Baathists, but his political opponents as well. While high ranking former Baathists like Iyad Allawi was able to become the interim prime minister despite the law, up to 150,000 other members of the party lost their jobs in 2003. This became a major cause of the insurgency, made the Sunnis feel that they were being persecuted, and robbed the new Iraqi government and armed forces of officers and professionals. By 2004 the U.S. was attempting to bring back those people to help end the insurgency. As a result, around 102,000 former Baathists found jobs in the government, including 45,000 former soldiers who either got pensions or returned to the security forces.

Ever since Prime Minister Maliki formed his government in 2006 he had promised and been pressured into passing a new de-Baathification law as a sign of reconciliation with the Sunnis. After five such pledges, a new law was finally introduced in March 2007, and sent to parliament in November. After lawmakers shouted it down, it was revised, amended, and finally voted on January 12, 2008. Some of the Sunni, secular, and independent parties boycotted the event, but the largest Sunni bloc voted in favor of it. As a result, only 143 of 275 politicians were present, and only 90 voted yes, showing the great divide over the law. It was then sent to the Presidential Council where Sunni Vice President Tariq Hashemi opposed the bill, and said that he wanted to amend it. That never happened, and after a set time limit, it became law in the beginning of February.

The Political Maneuvers Behind Passage of the New Law

The main reason why the new law was finally passed after over a year of delay was the changing political coalitions in parliament between supporters and opponents of Maliki. In 2007 Maliki’s government fell apart. Sunni and Shiite cabinet ministers boycotted his government. Lawmakers also routinely failed to show up to parliament leading to no political movement on anything of consequence. Maliki was forced to align himself with the Kurds and Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) to stay in power. When Maliki failed to come through with promises to the Kurds, they turned to the Sunnis to threaten Maliki. At the same time, a number of different political parties including the Sadrists, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List, and the Sunni National Dialgoue List attempted to overthrow Maliki. The prime minister’s only strong backer was the SIIC who had been calling on the boycotting Sunnis to return to the cabinet. It was within this context that the Accountability and Justice Law was passed, to try to appease the Sunnis and have them back Maliki’s faltering government.

Possible Effects of the New Law – But When Will They Happen?

The possible effects of the new law are hotly debated. Like the old law, the new one will ban the top 3 levels of the Baath party from jobs within the government. This time however, they will have the opportunity to apply for pensions with a new de-Baathification committee. Those denied could also appeal their cases, something that wasn’t allowed under the original law. It’s estimated that 3,500 former Baathists will be ineligible for jobs, but are now open to pensions, while 12,000-30,000 could apply for either. A sticking point in the new legislation is the fact that it says Baathists are banned from jobs in the Interior, Defense, Justice, Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries, the most powerful in the country. Some Iraqi politicians claim that up to 7,000 employees of the Interior Ministry as well as soldiers could lose their jobs as a result. It could also ban many of the Sunni Sons of Iraq groups from joining the Iraqi security forces because of their backgrounds. Many Sunnis interviewed by American and Iraqi newspapers also said they were afraid of the Shiite run government. Many Baathists fled the country after 2003, while others are living in hiding, fearing retribution by Shiites or Kurds. Critics also say that it continues on with the de-Baathification policy, which outlaws Baathists, rather than individuals, just under a new name. What it will actually do is yet to be seen as the de-Baathification committee hasn’t been appointed yet despite having four months to fill the positions. Accountability and Justice is then just a law in name only.


In order for the Accountability and Justice law to be a step towards reconciliation it needs to be enacted, and then allow enough Sunnis to be employed to overcome their deep distrust. The problem is that one of the greatest fears of many Shiites is the return of the Baathists to power, while many Sunnis fear domination by the Shiites. The actual implementation of the law will be what matters, whether it will be sued fairly and evenly, or be abused like the former act was. The Maliki government does not have a good record when it comes to overcoming sectarianism, which is not a good starting point for the law.


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NOTE: There are too many dead links to the sources for this article for me to post them.

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