Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Spectre of De-Baathification in Dhi Qar

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 17 November 2010 11:43

Iraq has largely closed down for the celebration of Eid al-Adha. In the rest of the Muslim world, this is often an occasion for amnesties for prisoners, and in some places in Iraq, there have been goodwill measures of this kind too, including in the Kurdish federal region.

However, from Dhi Qar in the far south, a worrying message of a very different kind was sent out on the eve of the holiday. On Monday, the governorate council voted to stop the process of giving back 170 persons their jobs in the educational sector after they had first been subjected to de-Baathification but later cleared by the accountability and justice board in Baghdad. The decision to stop the process was communicated by Latif Sayhud, a Daawa member also known as Abu Ahmad al-Hashimi. Although Sayhud is known to have been in conflict with Maliki in the past, the provincial council in Dhi Qar is dominated politically by an alliance reminiscent of the new National Alliance that is now in the lead in forming the next Iraqi government, with Daawa, the Sadrists and the Jaafari breakaway faction of the Daawa in central roles. It should be added that the sheer magnitude of the numbers involved in this Shiite-majority governorate strongly suggests that this is an intra-Shiite affair between Shiites who worked for the previous regime and Shiites who joined Islamist groups, whether in exile or in Iraq.

Another worrying aspect relates of course to the quasi-federalism that is gradually emerging in multiple Iraqi governorates south of Baghdad. Governorates in places like Najaf and Basra have already discovered they have a power to legislate on the sale of alcohol. In Wasit they have gone further by imposing male guards on every female member of the provincial council! During the previous upsurge of de-Baathification in February, most governorate councils in the south confined themselves to implementing wild interpretations of the national legislation on the subject; today,  the obvious fear is that with the continued tendency towards ever greater fragmentation of the Iraqi institutions of government, also de-Baathification could in the future become an area where governorates will seek to push their own ideas about “accountability and justice”.

25 Responses to “The Spectre of De-Baathification in Dhi Qar”

  1. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    this is a worrisome trend. Why doesnt/didnt Iraqiya negotiate for the establishment of a commission with indendent powers to prevent this kind of discrimination. It has always baffled me as to why Allawi cares so much about military/security, and not about domestic issues? I have asked the question before: “what does power-sharing mean?” Based on Allawi’s public statements and their focus on national security committee, it seems to boil down to: “How many armored divisions can I control?” In the USA, they have an equal opportunity employement organization with real teeth that businesses and government institutions are very accountable to. During the last several months, there never seemed to be a focus on building such an institution in Iraq. Chalabi and Lami’s group had real power, and people feared them. Why doesn’t Allawi and Iraqiya focus on these domestic issues instead of his obsession with the military and security apparatus?

    I have to admit that I was a hardened anti-baathist, but there needs to be a better way. I recently saw a movie about Mandela called “Invictus” and it was a real eye opener. All Iraqi politicians need to sit in a room and watch that movie, as it shows how reconciliation can be done right.

  2. Santana said


    Maliki is a lot of things but he is no dummy…by keeping all this de-baathification alive and an irritant to Iraqiya then when there are negotiations on matters of real substance with Iraqiya he can then give in on this instead of giving up something with real substance. Tehran at work my friend…..

  3. Kermanshahi said

    The Ba’athist regime was a brutal dictatorship which murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people, it is a sad thing to see that due to the secterian war and occupation/insurgency sympathy for them has grown, particulary among Sunnis but even among Shi’a, sympathy they do not deserve. Many started saying Saddam, his people, their ideology and their violent and opressive ways were not that bad at all (while they were), some even going as far as calling them good. This view that all members of the previous regime were innocent and full of good will, merely serving under a bad leader (Saddam) so that they could serve the Iraqi people and that these people all deserve to just be forgiven for their crimes while those Iraqis who suffered under Saddam and are now trialing these traitors are somehow the bad guys, is very wrong indeed.
    I totally accept the fact that not everyone which held government paid jobs was bad, but it should never be forgotten that de-Ba’athification in itself is not a bad thing. This is something many secularists and nationalists seem to forget (or rather, want to forget), acting like all former Ba’athists were good guys.

    That being said, if these 170 people in question, were cleared by the Accountability and Justice board, because they were innocent, they should be given their jobs back and this move by the al-Maliki regime and Sadr is not good. From what you say Reidar, I gather that they were teachers and it’s perfectly understandable that teachers under Saddam regime were forced to make propaganda for him. As long as they didn’t really believe what they said but just said it out of fear, than it can all be forgiven, however, the real Ba’athists which held this jobs because they genuinly liked Saddam, his racist ideology and what he was doing, should never be allowed to infect anyone’s minds with Ba’athis propaganda again.

  4. Mohammed said

    Santana: Can you please define “real substance” …what can be more important than the freedom for people to make a living and feed their children?

    Kermanshahi: I also hate baathism and the racist ideology (much like I hate apartheid)..but to exclude people from jobs for simply an ideology (if they dont have blood on their hands) is setting up an endless cycle of hate that will feed violence. If there is a former baathist high school teacher who wants to work, then let them work, but dont let them spew pro-baathists sentiments in class. The alternative is that they are unemployed and poor and hopeless, and then they become suicide bombers and blow up a bus of iranian pilgrims. Which option would you prefer?

  5. Santana said

    Mohammed- You are right- I guess my post can also be read in a sense that I am downplaying the importance of stopping the debaathification process….but that is not what I meant at all..I am appalled and disgusted that this is still going on and many families are suffering for no reason or no real substance behind this discrimination…..I think it is a great injustice and as far as I’m concerned all baathists (even the ones in Syria) should be pardoned and given a second chance besides- the ones that are considered dangerous are either in prison or have been executed.

  6. Kermanshahi said

    Reidar, maybe you’re interested to hear this, but Gorran Movement has just reported they have entered into talks with Maliki to get the position of Deputy Prime Minister.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Like the deputy presidents, the deputy premiers have no constitutionally prescribed powers or indeed existence. But we’re off topic.

  8. Kermanshahi said

    Well, an 8-seat list can’t really hope for much better

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Rumours say Iraqiyya are spending all their points on these useless positions. They have already won the non-existing chairmanship of the political council for strategic policies, and are reportedly fishing for a powerless deputy president and a ditto deputy premier as well! And they have got 91 seats…

  10. Kermanshahi said

    Well I think it’s safe to say the whole Iraqiyya bloc was a failure and the funny thing is that if they had won 10 seats less they would have been the main partner in a nationalist government with al-Maliki. That might have not been perfect since al-Maliki is unreliable and so are his political ideology and alliances, which keep changing as it suits him, but that would have still been much more preferable for them, than what happened now. But at least for al-Iraqiyya, Jalal Talabani’s ego and personal rivalry with Massoud Barzani led to the Kurds getting the useless Presidency, instead of al-Iraqiyya.

  11. Jason said

    I’m still quite hopeful that Iraqiya will be very influential when it comes to passing legislation, which will confirm that they are not as disenfranchised or powerless as sometimes imagined. One thing I’ve witnessed time and again in American politics is the backlash against a new leader from the dealmaking when the narrow interests start to call in their chips. It allows the opposition to spring back faster than anticipated. I would watch for this dynamic in Iraq to breath new life into Iraqiya.

    Then again, we have two-year midterm elections which is specifically designed to permit a partial walk-back of lurches to one extreme or the other. I have learned to appreciate them more and more over the years. I guess the closest thing Iraq will have will be new provincial elections before the end of 4 years?

  12. Reidar Visser said

    So what did the excellent midterm elections of Jan 2009 really produce? It will be difficult for Iraqiyya to initiate legislation in the next parliament without govt approval; it could however use the speakership to profile itself as an opposition party with the next parliamentary elections (2015?) as a long term goal.

  13. IMARK said

    When it comes to legislations and policies regarding national issues such as the Oil Law, Kerkuk, Budget, etc., I think Iraqi nationalists from presently competing parties (such as Irakiyya, Mliliki block, the Sadri’s, Independents) will join forces and a new dynamics will emerge. What do you think?

  14. Rediar, your thoughts?

  15. Jason said

    I assume you’re referring to the last local/provincial elections. If I recall correctly, isn’t that when more indigenous local politicians start running and winning against then-dominant and more Iran-beholden UIA, leading to its breakup? Didn’t it also re-engage disaffected Sunnis in many places, having realized the folly of earlier boycotts, laying the groundwork for the Iraqiya grouping? Both quite significant developments for the young democracy, in response to the earlier elections. The local/provincial offices should also act as a farm system for national leaders of the future. And maybe they will be more responsive to the people than some of the exiles that are in power now.

    Or maybe I’m just engaging in a lot of wishful thinking?

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Imark, well Maliki cannot allow too much of that dynamic to unfold before he has safely seated the government can he?

    Mahmoud, I’m afraid I find that article just as naive as the Obama administration. Look at the constitution and who has real power: as things stand now Maliki is the only winner; the rest is fiction and pure spin pending constitutional change or at least the passage of a law on the political council for strategic policies.

    Jason, I agree the elections were good and Maliki reached out to Mutlak just after that, but then came the pushback from Iran and the Obama administration warned Maliki against being too assertive in the northern areas and his nationalism project faded away again.

  17. Reidar, what have you been hearing about the National Council for Strategic Policies? So far, not much has been said about what has been agreed so far, other than the intention to establish a law. Seems there are still even disagreements about whether or not it will be an executive committee or just an advisory one. Also, it seems the Kurds are now demanding to retain the foreign ministry.

  18. Kermanshahi said

    The UIA had already broken up before the 2009 election and all it’s parties ran seperetly. It dead lead to the creation of al-Iraqiyya, but that didn’t do the Sunnis any good. The biggest effect was the elections made al-Maliki more arrogant and even more of a dictator until the beginning of the next elections where in the Sunnis universally rejected him and he suddenly “transformed” into the old Maliki again to try fool Iran, the Kurds and the INA to support him, which (sadly) succeded.

  19. Mike Knights said

    Dear all,

    these are stimulating times and it is good to experience them together on this board. In this new government, I think we can expect there to be two types of power: positive (driving) power and negative (restraining) power. At the federal level, the driving power will come from the prime minister, maybe the cabinet and the parliament. New initiatives, rare though they might be, will probably come from these places. Restraining power – the ability to slow down or snag new initiatives, often as a bargaining chip – no longer resides with the presidency but with a potentially large raft of other bodies – the parliament, the cabinet, maybe a National Council for Strategic Policies with a high threshold for joint decisions, maybe a Federal Oil and Gas Council with a crazy number of members, and so on. I suspect very few big issues will be tackled at the federal level during this term and maybe the biggest set of decisions to be made relate to the annual budgets each year.

    This is why the provincial level – belatedly turning to the subject of this blog entry – is going to be so interesting. Election campaigns in Iraq seem to get longer and longer – before, during and after the polls finally open. It will not be long before we see factions adjusting their actions with the provincial elections in mind. There are potentially significant assets to win: if money flows to the oil-producing governorates under the Article 58/petro-dollar mechanism, flooding some governor’s offices with hundreds of millions of extra dollars and creating significantly larger spending units capable of driving the commissioning of major infrastructure (albeit chaotically, without enough coordination with the ministries). Then there is the by-laws that Reidar highlights, which is a significant social and economic issue. We might also see the provinces utilizing the Provincial Powers Law to a greater extent, sucking the marrow out of it, so to speak. They will probably be encouraged by the US gov, the Iranians, and a host of NGOs. High on their list of priorities may be removing some police chiefs that were foisted on them by the federal government. Extra-legal action by governorates is always possible, such as the barely-veiled threats made against the Akkas deal in Anbar. Then there are the disputed boundary districts, where local-led confidence-building and administrative power-sharing is constantly outpacing the federal initiatives and may even be making them irrelevant in some areas.

    I hope we get a chance to dissect more provincial level developments on this site as the federal stuff becomes less prominent.


    Mike Knights
    Washington Institute

  20. Reidar Visser said

    Mahmoud, so far parliament has other things on its agenda than legislating the council. That is bad for Iraqiyya, but it just highlights how slow-moving the parliament really is. Remember it took them five hours to do a simple vote on the presidency of the assembly! They will apparently focus on appointing committees over the coming week.

    Mike, yes that is an interesting dynamic, note however that the federal supreme court has increasingly sided with Maliki in relevant cases over the past couple of years.

  21. Michael Knights said

    Duly noted Reidar.

    On the provincial level, we should watch how the issue of “police primacy” plays out. In a sense, police primacy in Iraq means provincial primacy in day-to-day security. The alternative – MoD/Iraqi Army primacy – means stronger federal control of local security in effect.

    Police primacy is one of those ideas that the US talks about more than the Iraqis; a bit like Sons of Iraq. There are some Iraqis who like the idea but the fed gov is not ready to give up its strong arm in many strategic provinces (Basrah, rural Kirkuk, Baghdad, Anbar, maybe Diyala/Salah al-Din/Nineveh).



    PS. On an unrelated note – possibly something you’ll cover in a forthcoming blog, Reidar – but what is the legality of this distinction that seems to have been made between Talabani’s designation of Maliki as the prime-minister designate on 11 Nov versus the “formal” offer to form the next governmetn that he may deliver by letter next week? I get the motive – more time, no 30-days ticking yet – but is it legal?

  22. Reidar Visser said

    Mike, there is no legal basis for distinguishing between the verbal and the written designation of the PM candidate, and Talabani is looking even more opportunistic than usual by doing so. However, by Iraqi standards I would say this is a minor infraction since everyone knows the constitutional timeline will be ignored anyway.

  23. Mike,
    The basic mechanism of Police Primacy as you describe is not new in Iraq; in the modern history of Iraq the most successful rulers used locals with social authority as the backbone of the police force, yet the governance was essentially central. The present Iraqi regime’s idea of centralism is to use centrally referenced policing in a provocative manner in order to subdue, not to police.
    To my mind, Police Primacy in Iraq as seen by the US is another opium to justify cut-and-run.

  24. Michael Knights said

    Reidar et al,

    without wishing for this thread to meander too far or last too long, a final thought that strikes me about the new government is that, without the presidentisal council veto, there is much more incentive to “guard the parliament” with decent attendance at sessions. The logic being: it usually requires a simple majority to pass a law, and that requires the majority of those present in the session (assuming quorum is met). So if quorum is 163 members, that makes 82 votes a simple majority and there’s no presidential council to rewind the vote. This makes walkouts a little riskier than they used to be! And I guess is another reasons why the speakership is pretty useful to have.



  25. Santana said


    Thanks for your comments – I agree that the Parliament is a nice backdrop or circuitbreaker to have if the other mechanisms fail or as you said are non-existent like the Presidency Council Veto but what is scary to me is that under “Maliki-Talabani II” government -Parliament can suddenly have a vote on passing a law without it even being on the agenda that day (a sneak attack if you will)…like what happened when the illegal act of voting took place for the Presidency which was not on the agenda that day ….this has set a dangerous precedent, the whole idea of putting something on the agenda is so concerned members would attend for sure with no excuse if they miss it . All these infractions are adding up and in a year or so it becomes the norm and then …just about anything goes ….I see dark days ahead.

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