De-baathification and Democratic Transition / Consolidation in Iraq

There are many challenges during in the transition from an authoritarian regime to one based on democratic principles. In single-party dictatorships, the issue of what to do with the “shock troops” of the regime–the rank-and-file (and some not so rank-and-file) party members who were not leaders in any sense of the word but did provide the regime with the labor and muscle power necessary for the quotidian functioning of the society. These would include civil workers, police, teachers and professors, enlisted soldiers, etc.

Upon eliminating the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, the United States was faced with the task of what to do with the hundreds of thousands of Baath Party members who were viewed as having intimate ties to the Hussein regime. In what is widely considered one of the biggest mistakes of the post-overthrow occupation, Paul Bremer fired, and otherwise had removed from their jobs, hundreds of thousands of these lower ranking Baath party members. In a potentially positive sign (the devil, as always, is in the sectarian details), Iraq’s parliament has recently passed a law allowing many of these individuals to return to their former jobs. From the Associated Press:

Iraq’s parliament passed a benchmark law Saturday allowing lower-ranking former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to reclaim government jobs, the first major piece of U.S.-backed legislation it has adopted…

The seismic piece of legislation had been demanded by the United States since November 2006 and represented the first legislative payoff for Bush’s decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to the country to quell violence…

It was not immediately clear how many former Baathists would benefit from the new legislation, titled the Accountability and Justice law. But the move was seen as a key step in the reconciliation process.

Before the party was outlawed — the first official act of L. Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority — its membership was estimated at between 2 million and 6 million.

The strict implementation of so-called de-Baathification rules meant that many senior bureaucrats who knew how to run ministries, university departments and state companies were fired after 35 years of Baath party rule.

Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority order No. 1 of May 16, 2003, had effectively stripped key government ministries, the military and top economic institutions of centuries of cumulative experience.

The order also was blamed for fueling the Sunni-dominated insurgency that took root in the late summer of 2003, under the leadership of ousted Sunni Baathists who sought vengeance against what they saw as their American tormentors…

The bill was approved by an unanimous show of hands on each of its 30 clauses. The measure seeks to relax restrictions on the rights of former party members to fill government posts. It also would allow reinstatement of thousands of lower-ranking Baathists dismissed from government jobs on Bremer’s order in the first month after Baghdad fell to invading American forces.

Ali al-Lami, a senior official who has worked on the new legislation, said 3,500 former high-ranking Baathists would be offered retirement and pensions. He said 13,000 lower-ranking Baathists would be offered reinstatement. Also, 7,000 people now holding government jobs but who had been members of Saddam’s security service would be retired and given pensions.

Iraq’s military already had worked through the Baath Party problem, declaring that anyone who had served above the rank of major in Saddam’s time would be automatically retired and put on pension. Those who held the rank of major or below were allowed to return to the military if qualified.

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