Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Reign of Terror Continues in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 2 February 2010 17:12

It is not only suicide bombers that make up the problem of terror in today’s Iraq. Also the new republic itself is looking more Jacobin by the day.

After the French revolution, Maximilien de Robespierre in 1793 famously concentrated almost all power in a committee called Comité de salut public or the committee of public safety. Until its dissolution in 1794, this body fought a relentless war against real and imagined enemies of internal and external origin. Its preferred method for dealing with dissent was the guillotine; its year in power became known as “the reign of terror”.

In today’s Iraq, another committee is becoming increasingly important at the highest level of government: the de-Baathification board. Its procedures are different from those followed by Robespierre and his allies, but their impact is very similar: An atmosphere of fear designed to intimidate political opponents, increasingly on the pattern of what is going on in neighbouring Iran.

Developments over the past days have only underlined the extent to which the whole de-Baathification process has become politicised and devoid of any legal guarantees. After having previously presented a list of 511 banned candidates, Ali al-Lami of the de-Baathification board recently announced that a second batch of some 700 additional names was on its way to the independent election commission (IHEC). He also declared that the outcome of the ongoing appeals process for the banned candidates would not automatically mean reinstatement: That decision was for the IHEC to make, and would not necessarily follow the advice of the seven-member appeals court panel that has recently been put together. Meanwhile, the Iraqi parliamentary committee that supposedly exercises some kind of oversight over the de-Baathification board has suddenly declared that it is looking into the details of some of the appeal cases, after having initially given its stamp of approval for the first round of exclusions. In sum, it appears as if the idea of due process has been merrily abandoned in favour of an impromptu procedure that is being made up as we move along. Under CPA order 97 – the only legal authority to which these forces now bother to make reference – everything seems possible.

Just to underline the capriciousness of what is going on, late last night, Hamdiya al-Husayni, an IHEC commissioner who is close to the Daawa party, announced that a second batch of 57 names of persons that would be banned from running as candidates had been received from the de-Baathification board, incidentally meaning that around 650 names from Lami’s assessment on Sunday apparently had gone lost somewhere along the way. The commission has also announced separately that Zafir al-Ani, a breakaway leader of Tawafuq, has been banned, presumably reflecting the outcome of his appeal (Ani’s case, alongside that of Mutlak, was reportedly due to be reconsidered by the parliamentary sub-committee “today or tomorrow”; that has presumably been called off). Finally, the IHEC has declared that campaigning for the elections is to start on 7 February, thereby leaving no more than 4 weeks to the parties ahead of the vote, and opening the question of what will happen to any appeals related to the most recent batch of exclusions. (The idea has always been that campaigning will start when candidate lists have been printed and one would assume therefore that no campaigning takes place until the appeals process has been duly exhausted; however between today and Sunday, much of Iraq will effectively be closed down due to the Arbain Shiite pilgrimage marking the end of the 40 days mourning period for Imam Hussein.)

These infractions of basic legal principles notwithstanding, key players in the international community appear to be lining up to give their tacit backing to the de-Baathification committee. The latest addition is the head of UNAMI in Iraq, Ad Melkert, who in a recent meeting with Ammar al-Hakim of ISCI described the de-Baathification process as one based on Iraqi constitutional criteria. Previously, Vice-President Joe Biden expressed his support for the Iraqi process, followed by President Barack Obama who voiced general support for the Iraqi government in his State of the Union address. One can get the impression that Washington could end up sitting idly by, simply hoping that a minimum number of reinstatements of banned candidates will be delivered by the Iraqi system itself prior to the elections.

Election propaganda for the Iraqi National Alliance from the Buratha news agency warning about the return of the Baath

Perhaps most dangerous in all of this is the idea, held by a considerable number of influential think tankers in the West, that this is all a case of a misunderstanding and that most of the key players in Iraq in reality do not support the de-Baathification board – an idea that seemed to gain prominence not least after the recent visit to Washington by ISCI’s Adil Abd al-Mahdi. This view is deeply misleading, for two reasons. Firstly, it goes without saying that if the leading parties in Iraq really disapproved of the actions of Messieurs Lami and Chalabi, they could simply have dismissed them by a parliamentary vote. Secondly, when sweet talk by Abd al-Mahdi in Washington is translated as disapproval by ISCI of the de-Baathification process, this is just plain wrong. For one thing, leading ISCI media like the Buratha news agency and the Forat television channel have been pumping out anti-Baathist propaganda for months, creating a sectarian dimension to the issue by associating the potential rise of Salih al-Mutlak and other banned candidates with an upsurge of violence against Shiites and Shiite mosques. But even the polished Adala newspaper that is owned by Abd al-Mahdi himself publishes this stuff up front. For example, it has recently given ample space to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is part of their electoral alliance, and his defence of the actions of the de-Baathification committee. When Western commentators focus on reassurances offered in Washington they simply miss the bigger picture and the systematic attempt by the Shiite Islamist parties to have  de-Baathification as a defining issue ahead of the 7 March elections.

From Al-Adala, the newspaper of Adil Abd al-Mahdi

After the Jacobins, can Iraq stomach a Thermidorian reaction, a Directory, and a Bonaparte?  President Barack Obama, a Nobel laureate, should not leave behind a situation with this sort of violent potential.

9 Responses to “The Reign of Terror Continues in Iraq”

  1. Reidar,
    What do you think of the call to boycot the elections? I think no matter how many candidates are banned, a boycot is counter productive to Iraq’s moderates.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    To be honest, for the time being I see no reason why the boycott option should not be on the table at least, and I don’t see why some insist that they will never use it – that kinda reduces their leverage doesn’t it? I am concerned with regard to the general level of apathy towards the recent highhandedness by Lami et al. and the fact that Washington apparently will see a symbolic number of reinstatements as a success whilst ignoring how the whole atmosphere of the elections is being changed to one of fear and intimidation, which after all was the main goal of the de-Baathification hardliners.

  3. I think Ayad Allawi is still calling the boycott a possibility.
    The apathy of Iraqis is not only due to fear and distrust in corrupt government institutions; the situation is so volatile and nobody seems to have direction except the Iranians.
    The US Administration must understand the way we’re going Iraq will continue to limit their options and drain their resources.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, the latest statements by Allawi have been quite powerful. I am wondering what Hashemi is saying in DC today though.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Marc Lynch is covering the Hashemi visit to DC here:
    His post relates to the current dilemma of the critics of the de-Baathification process: If they ask for US intervention they will be accused of instigating external meddling in internal Iraqi affairs; if they do nothing it could mean good bye to the last remnants of meaningful democracy in Iraq. That’s why the solution should involve some kind of extraordinary international supervision effort for the elections, like the one proposed here:
    Rather than constituting foreign interference, this would simply add an extra layer of scrutiny around the elections process, which would be totally unremarkable in a country still in a process of democratic transition. After all, even key defenders of the current system like Nuri al-Maliki and Ali al-Sistani are on record as saying that the constitution adopted in 2005 has a number of weaknesses.

  6. Reidar,
    A few days ago I re-started my petition for UNCEI, this time it is addressed to Pres. Obama. The wording reflects the “current dilemma” as you describe. And I called this situation a checkmate scenario on Jan. 10 (blog entry in Arabic).
    At this late stage not much can be done to reverse the effect of opposition banning and similar practices. As an Iraqi looking into the political process I see little hope of progress if nothing gets done, the major concern is the integrity of the voting process and the sign says the US does not want to get involved. A UN special rapporteur is a great idea but without wide participation we will get mainly sectarian vote and the rapporteur will not find much to report about. We need a promise of change if significant vote fraud is found by the rapporteur, the Iraqi voter needs this assurance in order to make it worthwhile to do the effort: A word from Pres. Obama that all bets are off if a scenario similar to the Afghanistan and/or Iran elections is played out in Iraq. A friend of mine suggested mentioning review of SOFA, I think this would be the strongest incentive to invite wide participation and “scrupulous electoral monitoring” (Marc Lynch’s words) by Iraqi citizens. It is more effective and less expensive to motivate Iraqis than to bring in foreign observers. However, if fraud occurs then I believe UNCEI is justified and maybe inevitable.
    Marc also wondered what would happen if the elections did not produce change? I believe it will lead to worse dilemma to the US than the one we’re in because it will involve regional parties. A US policy of no action is like shooting yourself in the foot.

  7. amagi said

    I’m sure you are already aware, but Aswat al Iraq reports today that banned candidates will be allowed to participate in upcoming elections:

    I can only ask: what is going on?

  8. Reidar Visser said

    A new post on the reinstatements is just around the corner. Within an hour I should think.

  9. Salah said

    To add to series of Iranian tail government in Iraq, what it could be the disastrous for real arts & symbols Baghdad had? Although these guys trying to cleansing Baghdad/Iraq from any prod moments Iraq had for Iraq /Iran war.

    Now the start to demolish the Victory Arch which is symbol every Iraqi prod of stopping Khomeini from invading Iraq by exporting his revelation which the out come very clear inside Iran from 1979 till now. This Arch designed by very famous and genius Iraqi artist Khalid Al-Rahal, and build by British company and German who specialised in Bronze casting as the handles of the big swords which makes the arch which shrouded by real Iranian’s military helmets collected from war zone during 8 years of war.

    Its real disaster they guys the do and doing, I don’t know what they will they leave behind them more that “millions” or “ Thousands” of those poor and illiterates people just going and coming to Karabla and Najaf all the year around and put them in danger of explosives.

    بغداد /نينا/ باشرت امانة بغداد وبناء على توجيهات من الامانة العامة لمجلس الوزراء بازالة قوس النصر في ساحة الاحتفالات الكبرى ونصب الوحدة الوطنية في ساحة اللقاء وجدارية الجسر المعلق واللوحات البرونزية في جانب الكرخ باعتبارها من مخلفات النظام السابق .وذكر مصدر في الامانة العامة لمجلس الوزراء للوكالة الوطنية العراقية للانباء / نينا/ ان كتابين صدرا بهذا الاتجاه الاول في الرابع والعشرين من تشرين الثاني الماضي والاخر في الخامس والعشرين من الشهر الماضي تضمنا توصيات من لجنة مشكلة في الامانة العامة لمجلس الوزراء حول قضايا الجداريات ومخلفات النظام السابق .واشار المصدر الى ان الكتابين وجها الى امانة بغداد وقيادة عمليات بغداد باكمال تفكيك وازالة قوس النصر ونصب اللقاء وجدارية الجسر المعلق واللوحات البرونزية في جانب الكرخ وجميع الجداريات من مخلفات النظام السابق .يذكر ان قوس النصر المقام في ساحة الاحتفالات الكبرى هو من المعالم المهمة في مدينة بغداد وتم تنفيذه بواسطة شركة (موريس سينغر) البريطانية التي أهتمت بتنفيذ ألاعمال البرونزية لقبضتي وساعدي اليدين المتقابلتين الى جانب شركة (هـ هـ ميتال فورم) الألمانية التي عهد إليها تنفيذ وصناعة السيوف من سبيكة الفولاذ واقيم النصب أثناء الحرب العراقية الإيرانية وأطلق عليه أسم قوس النصر وهو عبارة عن سيفين ضخمين، يرسمان في الفضاء قوسا شاسعا. تمسكهما يدان قويتان وتحت السيفين خمسة آلاف خوذة لجنود إيرانيين وهي خوذات حقيقية، جمعت من ساحات المعارك التي دارت بين العراق وايران وصمم النصب الفنان خالد الرحال

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