Thursday, February 1, 2024

Review Lessons Of The Iraqi De-Ba’athification Program For Iraq’s Future And The Arab Revolutions

Terrill, W. Andrew, Lessons Of The Iraqi De-Ba’athification Program For Iraq’s Future And The Arab Revolutions, Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute, 2012


In Lessons Of The Iraqi De-Ba’athification Program For Iraq’s Future And The Arab Revolutions W. Andrew Terrill lays out how deBaathification was a disaster for the United States and Iraq. He argues it was based upon the wrong assumptions, was not necessary, helped lead to the insurgency, inflamed sectarianism, and devastated the Iraqi government.


Terrill treats his topic like a history. He therefore starts off with some background on the Baath Party, how the Bush administration came up with deBaathification, and then how it was implemented in Iraq up to the Maliki government. One of his main points was that Saddam was not a committed Baathist. He did not follow its ideology, used the party as a means to increase his control over Iraq and many joined the party simply to find jobs in the government which was the largest employer. Baathists never had a popular base in Iraq before it seized power in a coup. To many in the Bush administration and some Iraqi exiles the party was compared to Nazism which the author believed was a bad analogy. The Nazis for instance, had mass support and many of its members were committed ideologues. That meant deBaathification did not have to be a blanket punishment and go as deep as deNazification because the number of Saddam loyalists and criminals was rather small compared to Germany. Still, many in the Bush administration and some Iraqi exiles conflated Baathism with Nazism. Terrill also highlights that policy was being made based upon assumptions rather than facts on the ground in Iraq.


Most of the book deals with Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) which issued the deBaathification order as well as disbanded the Iraqi military. Banning the Baath party and its top leadership and putting the top government managers under review was the first thing Bremer did when he took office in 2003. He then disbanded the Iraqi military because it was a tool of Saddam’s repression and thought to be run by Baathists. He got the orders from Douglas Feith the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. The reasoning seemed to be a fear that Saddam and the Baath would attempt to seize power in a coup and overthrow the new Iraq. Terrill understood this concern but with all the other problems going on in Iraq such as the looting, the collapse of the Iraqi government, the start of the insurgency, etc. fear of Baathists should not have been the top priority. Not only that but top officials such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed former regime members as deadenders who could not achieve anything.


Bremer becomes Terrill’s second target of criticism. The former CPA head still stands by deBaathification to this day saying it was the right thing to do but was implemented the wrong way by the Iraqis. In Garner’s book he lays out how he wanted to establish his authority in the country immediately and assert U.S. power and he believed that deBaathification and disbanding the Iraqi military would do that. He was warned by several people that the order would create enemies and immediate trouble but he dismissed them. When ex-soldiers began protesting in Baghdad against losing their jobs he blew them off as well. When he does admit to fault he places it all on the Iraqis. The CPA eventually turned over deBaathification to the Iraqi Governing Council who used it against Sunnis while largely absolving Shiites. Terrill writes it's unclear whether the CPA ever managed the application of the order in the first place and did even less when the Iraqis took over. To him, Bremer and his two decisions were some of the biggest mistakes made during the entire Iraq War. He wasn’t willing to take responsibility for his actions and tried to pass blame onto others. 


Last, the book discusses how deBaathification caused sectarianism and wrecked the Iraqi government. The process was often called deSunnization because it targeted that community. Not only that but Iraqis on the deBaathification Commission would often make exceptions for Shiite Baathists because that would make them loyal to the Shiite parties that took over the government. It also decapitated much of the bureaucracy. Not only the top management in government offices were dismissed but thousands of professors, teachers, and others. There were few qualified people to fill those positions and the ruling parties stuffed the government with their cronies. That also continued to exclude Sunnis. Terrill writes that led many Sunnis to believe they had no place in the new Iraq and turned to resistance.


Lessons Of The Iraqi De-Ba’athification Program is a very short book. It’s less than 100 pages and can be read very quickly. It’s a very concise and convincing argument against deBaathification and disbanding the Iraqi military. Terrill was right to say they were some of the worst decisions the U.S. made during the entire war. It not only turned many Sunnis against the U.S. and the new Iraq but decapitated the government making it incapable of serving the public.


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