Keen watchers of Iraqi politics will recall a dramatic headline in Al-Hayat on 24 February 2010, shortly before the 7 March parliamentary elections: The head of the de-Baathification committee, Ali al-Lami, announced that 376 high-ranking officers in the Iraqi army were subject to de-Baathification and should be removed from their posts. The list of names included such prominent officers as Abbud Qanbar and Abd al-Muhsin al-Kaabi. In short, these were Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s guys – Shiites who had worked for Saddam Hussein and had subsequently been coopted by Maliki. They were being attacked by a fellow Shiite in the de-Baathification committee with ties to Ahmad Chalabi, one of the most zealous exponents of a hardline de-Baathification policy.
Flash forward to today’s situation and the continuing debate about who should get the security ministries in Nuri al-Maliki’s still incomplete second government. In the sea of rumours and counter-rumours on this issue, one particularly interesting item is a report this week that Ali al-Lami is once more attacking Maliki and is trying to marginalise some of his candidates for the ministries of defence and interior.
Lami has told an Iraqi news agency that proceedings are underway to exclude the top candidate for the defence ministry post, Khalid al-Ubaydi, for unspecified reasons relating to de-Baathification. He has also added that investigations are ongoing concerning the frontrunner for the interior ministry, Ibrahim Muhammad al–Lami, on the grounds that he had received the Quds order for his service for the Baathist regime in the late 1990s.
The rationale for excluding Ibrahim al-Lami seems particularly odd since the relevant legal framework – the accountability and justice law of 2008 – is strictly based on combinations of rank in the Baath party and type of job in the security ministries as a basis for exclusion from all or certain jobs in the state bureaucracy. Instead, and not for the first time, Lami seems to be creating his own indicators of de-Baathification without making specific reference to the accountability and justice law.
Beyond the questionable legal basis for the exclusion, the case has interesting political ramifications. What we are seeing is basically a heated internal Shiite struggle about pragmatic versus hardliner approaches in the question of de-Baathification. Ali al-Lami and the candidate he is seeking to exclude, Ibrahim al-Lami, are not only both Shiites, they probably both hail from the Banu Lam tribe of south-eastern Iraq! As for the wider political dimensions, it is noteworthy that Ahmad Chalabi appears to enjoy the support of the Sadrists as far as the security ministries are concerned (they are interested in letting Chalabi himself have that portfolio).
The issue does not end with the internal Shiite struggle. Maliki’s candidate for defence, Khalid al-Ubaydi, first emerged as an Iraqiyya candidate but has since met with opposition from inside Iraqiyya, in particular from Ayyad Allawi. Some say this is because Ubaydi is considered too close to another Iraqiyya leader, Usama al-Nujayfi. In other words, it appears Ubaydi is being favoured by Maliki and Nujayfi (and White Iraqiyya) and is being opposed by Chalabi, the Sadrists and Allawi!
Going forward, the fate of these two internal struggles – pragmatists versus hardliners on de-Baathification inside the all-Shiite National Alliance, as well as pro-Maliki (Nujayfi, Mutlak, Eisawi?) versus anti-Maliki (Allawi, Hashemi?) inside Iraqiyya – could have an impact on several momentous issues in Iraqi politics, including the oil law, Kirkuk and the question of a renewal of the SOFA with the United States. Indeed, it could have an impact on the survival of the second Maliki government itself.