Debaathification redux

In an earlier post, I noted that the Iraqi parliament had passed a law allowing the re-hiring of rank-and-file members of the Baathist party, who had lost their jobs in one fell swoop as a result of a decision by Paul Bremer in the immediate aftermath of the US-led invasion. As has been the case on numerous prior occasions in Iraq, the news may not be as good as originally hoped. From the NY Times we find:

A day after the Iraqi Parliament passed legislation billed as the first significant political step forward in Iraq after months of deadlock, there were troubling questions — and troubling silences — about the measure’s actual effects.

The measure, known as the Justice and Accountability Law, is meant to open government jobs to former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein — the bureaucrats, engineers, city workers, teachers, soldiers and police officers who made the government work until they were barred from office after the American invasion in 2003.

But the legislation is at once confusing and controversial, a document riddled with loopholes and caveats to the point that some Sunni and Shiite officials say it could actually exclude more former Baathists than it lets back in, particularly in the crucial security ministries.

Once again, the crux of the issue in Iraq is the sectional and interethnic struggle amongst Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, and non-Arab Kurds, and who get what, when, and where. There are no easy answers.

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.

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