Iraq: 'De-Baathification' to officially end


The day after a US-created Iraqi tribunal sentenced former president Saddam Hussein to death, a senior Iraqi official heading a committee set up by the US authorities in 2003 to purge members of the former ruling Baath Party from public life announced that it will recommend allowing most of them to take back their government jobs or get pensions.

BBC News reported on November 6 that the committee's head, Ali al Lamy, "said the plans could mean the reinstatement of more than a million ex-activists … The most senior former Baath officials, who were close to Saddam Hussein, will remain excluded.

"Lamy said a draft law had been prepared which would allow all but the top 1500 party cadres to return to work or get pensions. However, the ban on the Baath Party would remain."

In May 2003, Paul Bremer, the head of the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), issued a sweeping ban of the Baath Party. All former party members were to be barred from holding government jobs. Bremer also issued a decree dissolving the regime's 400,000-strong army.

In a November 2004 article in the New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson reported: "An American special-forces officer stationed in Baghdad at the time told me that he was stunned by Bremer's twin decrees." After the army's dissolution, he told Anderson, "I had my guys coming up to me and saying, 'Does Bremer realise that there are four hundred thousand of these guys out there and they all have guns?' … The problem with the blanket ban is that you get rid of the infrastructure; I mean, after all, these guys ran the country, and you polarise them. So did these decisions contribute to the insurgency? Unequivocally, yes."

Bremer's purge was carried out to clear the way for US plans to rapidly "de-Baathise" the Iraqi economy, through the selling-off of the country's huge oil resources — nationalised by the Baathist regime in 1972 — to the big US and British oil companies. In September 2003, Bremer issued a decree clearing the way for the privatisation of 200 state-owned enterprises, allowing 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses and unrestricted, tax-free remittance of all profits and other funds by foreign investors.

According to the November 6 BBC News report on the proposed new anti-Baath Party law, "Nuseer al Ani, a spokesman for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, said anyone without blood on their hands would be considered [for re-hiring]. 'Reconciliation is open to all Iraqi parties, even those who carry arms, but whose hands are not stained with Iraqi blood', he said."

In reality, for some years now, tens of thousands of former Baathist military and secret police officers whose "hands were stained with Iraqi blood" under Hussein's regime have been working in the US-created Iraqi security forces.

In an April 2005 "backgrounder" on the "de-Baathification" process, the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the leading US foreign policy think-tank, noted that in April 2004 Bremer publicly announced a change in policy toward former Baathist military, police and intelligence service officers.

"By April 2004", CFR staff writer Sharon Otterman noted, "it had become evident that Iraq's fledgling police and military were largely unable to stand up to the increasingly aggressive insurgents. The US military calculated that experienced former officers of Saddam Hussein's military would fortify the command structure of the new forces, says Kenneth Katzman, a senior Middle East analyst at the Congressional Research Service. In addition, debaathification itself appeared to be causing a security threat. 'Every time you purge a commander, you add a potential commander to the insurgency', Katzman says."

Nibras Kazimi, a former adviser to the Bremer-created de-Baathification commission, told Otterman that a year after the change in policy there were at least 9000 ex-Baathists working in the Iraqi defence ministry, interior ministry and intelligence service.

The "re-Baathification" policy was most dramatically symbolised when the CPA formally handed over "sovereignty" to an interim Iraqi government on June 1, 2004. Bremer handpicked ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi as Iraq's interim prime minister.

Born into a wealthy Shiite family in 1945, Allawi joined the Baath Party in 1963. According to the memoirs of Talib Shabib, a senior Baathist official in the 1960s and early 1970s, Allawi was an assassin for the Mukhabarat, Iraq's secret police, until 1976, when he fell out with Hussein, then Iraq's vice-president.

While in exile in Britain, Allawi formed a close relationship with MI6 and later the CIA. In 1979, he started organising former Baathist military officers, all of whom were implicated in the kind of human rights abuses Hussein has just been convicted of.

In 1994-95, Allawi's emigre Iraqi National Accord (INA) group, with CIA support, carried out a series of terrorist car bombings in Baghdad, killing around 100 civilians. Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer who served in the Middle East, told the June 25, 2004, New Yorker magazine: "Two facts stand out about Allawi. One, he likes to think of himself as a man of ideas; and, two, his strongest virtue is that he's a thug."

Once installed as Washington's puppet Iraqi PM, Allawi accelerated the "re-Baathification" policy, appointing ex-Baathists as his defence and interior ministers. Major-General Rasheed Flayeh was appointed director-general of the interior ministry's paramilitary special police commando force, despite the de-Baathification commission's objection that, as head of Hussein's special forces in the southern city of Nasiriyah, he had been involved in the bloody suppression of the Shiite uprising in 1991.

The American Forces Press Service reported on October 20, 2004, that US Army Colonel James Coffman, an "adviser" to the special police commando force, said: "They needed a strike force that reported to the ministry of interior … So they purposely went out and recruited these former special forces and Mukhabarat personnel … to capitalise on the previous skill sets that they had."

The "skill sets" these personnel had were ideally suited to the creation of government death squads.

The January 9, 2005, Newsweek reported that Pentagon "planners" were discussing applying the "Salvador option" in Iraq. In the early 1980s, Newsweek noted, "faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the US government funded or supported 'nationalist' forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers".

There was, of course, nothing "so-called" about these death squads. According to the 1993 report of UN's Truth Commission on El Salvador, the bulk of the 70,000 civilian victims in that country's 12-year-long civil war were killed by CIA-recruited death squads operating out of the Salvadoran army and national police.

The Newsweek article went on to report that the Pentagon planned to "send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers …"

The day after the Newsweek report, retired General Wayne Downing, former head of US Special Operations Command, told NBC's Today show, the "Salvador option" was "a very valid strategy, a very valid tactic".

In response to Today show host Katie Couric's comment, "But in El Salvador many innocent civilians were killed when these kind of tactics were employed", Downing replied: "Katie, this has nothing to do with El Salvador. Those operations that were conducted down there were conducted by renegade military leaders. This is under the control of the US forces, of the current interim Iraqi government. There's no need to think that we're going to have any kind of a killing campaign that's going to maim innocent civilians."

In September 2005, a UN human rights report held the Iraqi interior ministry's special police forces responsible for an organised campaign of detentions, torture and killings of thousands of suspected supporters of the Sunni-based anti-occupation insurgency. It reported that special police commando units accused of carrying out the killings had been recruited by US Special Forces personnel.

As with the death squads in El Salvador, the Pentagon has claimed that its Iraqi death squads — commanded by US-recruited ex-Baathist thugs — are "renegade" elements, directed by anti-US Shiite militia leaders who have "infiltrated" the Iraqi interior ministry — a claim that the Western corporate media parrots now in almost every report it makes on the US war in Iraq.