Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Maliki’s Baathists and Faysal al-Lami: Towards Another Confrontation?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 31 March 2011 19:32

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.

16 Responses to “Maliki’s Baathists and Faysal al-Lami: Towards Another Confrontation?”

  1. Santana said


    I am curious….are you lumping Nujaifi, Mutlaq and Eissawi as “Pro-Maliki” only cuz they have official positions in the cabinet or do you think their ideology is compatible?

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, to some extent, you may be right, this is probably also about positions. Note however that Nujayfi and Mutlak at least have tended to publicly agree with Maliki/Shahristani on Kurdish issues and Kirkuk whereas Allawi and Hashemi have tended to take a pro-Kurdish position (and certainly not the opposite). So that could be an area of potential ideological rapprochement.

  3. Interesting observation Reidar, specially Maliki as pragmatist. It seems to me that Nujaifi/Mutlak/Eisawi tend to have pragmatic views since they secured their positions. Though Allawi’s alignment with Chalabi seems so out of character and risky.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, Allawi is also a great friend of Barzani and some of the Sadrists despite the fact that it doesn’t get him anywhere politically, so I’m not all that surprised…

  5. Mohammed said


    what is the basis for the continuation of the justice and accountability commission anyways? Why doesn’t Maliki simply call their bluff, and say that they have no legal basis for existence, or simply dismiss the current group and say that parliament will work to write a law to create a new group at some point later. If he got rid of them, politically won’t that help him score big points and drive up his popularity?

    Hasn’t al-Maliki learnt a lesson from the last fiasco? In the end, they booted al-Mutlaq and now he is deputy PM! How does al-Maliki benefit form having this commission around? Besides annoying Iran by dismissing al-Lami, what would be the downside of doing so?

  6. Reidar,
    Which, unfortunately, goes to show once more that in Iraq the personal, psychological, factor is probably the dominant factor, rather than principles and politics.

  7. I think Maliki is playing games here. The debaath issue came up again about a week ago, Maliki would have known that Khalid Obaydi and Muhsin Kaabi are going to be excluded. So he goes ahead and nominates Obaydi, Allawi’s candidate up until this last weekend, allowing Maliki to put forward a “compromise” candidate at defense. Then at interior, Adnan Asadi and Ibrahim Lami were the two candidates close to Maliki, Kaabi gets excluded, so either way he gets someone close at interior. Unless of course Lami gets debaathed, in which case he has to try and get Asadi through, which will be hard.

    I don’t see Chalabi getting interior, even though he’s been putting himself out there for it for several weeks. Maybe he is hoping for a reappointment to the debaath commission in exchange for standing down at interior. He can’t possibly become interior min. without Maliki’s approval, and I don’t see that coming.

  8. ali w said

    Hi Reidar

    Why could it have an impact on maliki surviving or not?

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, that is Maliki’s problem – for ideological reasons, he appears unable to stand up against the de-Baathification commission in the same way that he was able to stand up against the Mahdi Army in 2008. Even though there are signs of pragmatism in what he is doing, this has not yet translated into a coherent ideological alternative to the political programme of the old “exiled Daawa”. And that current within the Daawa still remains influential at the very top of the decision-making hierarchy of the National Alliance.

    Kirk, I still find it a little striking that the most vocal critics of the candidates for the security ministries have been precisely Chalabi, Badr and the Sadrists. Yesterday, there was a report that Aziz al-Ukayli, linked to Badr, was criticising Maliki for putting forward a “Baathist” for interior (Ibrahim al-Lami). Today, some of the same criticism comes from Abd al-Sattar Abd al-Jabbar, who is a Sadrist. Maliki risks losing some of the people that have worked closely with him in the past if he uses them as cannon fodder in a bid to eventually install Asadi.

    Ali, I think Maliki could potentially get into trouble if he alienates half of Iraqiyya, the de-Baathification hardliners in the National Alliance and the Kurds at the same time. At the same time, as said many times before, I think his path to a viable core coalition invovlves building bridges to people like Nujayfi and Mutlak.

  10. Kermanshahi said

    Allawi, Hashemi, Sadr, Jaafari and Challabi should get together with ISCI, al-Tawafuq and the Kurds and try to unseat al-Maliki.

  11. Kermanshahi,
    That’s called a coup and it’s not easy since Maliki has his followers all over the government. I think calling an early election is more civilized but I sense lack of faith in the process by all parties.
    This is a potentially dangerous situation.

  12. Kermanshahi said

    A coup is if the military would depose Maliki, but this is not what I suggested, this isn’t needed either. The NIA, Tawafuq, KBC and Christian parties, Gorran and Allawi/Hashemi blocs have together around 175 seats, which is enough to get rid of Maliki through a parliamentary vote.

  13. Santana said


    You are in lala land again….I wish what you said is possible but half those seats you are talking about will jump ship after Iran figures out what is happening. Iran will start using back channel extortions and threats to derail it….why do you think Allawi never got 163 plus in the first attempt to put a Nationalistic and secular government together ?…it didn’t work then and won’t work now…as long as Iran is next door with it’s evil minded government (that is much more motivated and proactive than the USG ever will be) then Iraq is screwed- it is that simple. In other words…anything good for Iraq and the region is something Iran will fight tooth and nail.

  14. Wayne White said

    Just saw this.

    Once again we have McCarthy-like de-Ba’thification being employed to hound out of the Iraqi political mainstream individuals who bring some diversity to the ruling group and draw in the Sunni Arab community, much of it still suspicious and alienated. And yes, instead of a process meant to be restricted somewhat by the 2008 groundrules, we see a shameless al-Lami using it shotgun style for maximum damage.

    As so many Iraqis continue to hope for some measure of normalization, actions like this make that less likely in the near-term.

  15. Kermanshahi said

    Iran doesn’t want al-Maliki in charge of Iraq, they tried to get an alliance going between ISCI, Iraqiyya and the Kurds, but the ideological differences were too big and the Ba’athists just wouldn’t budge on any key issues, that’s why all sides had to eventually settle for al-Maliki, who is willing to do anything for anyone as long as it keeps him in power.

  16. Salah said

    In other words…anything good for Iraq and the region is something Iran will fight tooth and nail.

    Santana, with all due respect of your views and words which I do agree, but NONE of Iraqis neighbors like Iraq to be democratic state with ” Nationalistic and secular government together”.

    From Kuwaitis to Saudis and Jordanians, Syrians also Turkey of course Iran each one have his sickness about Iraq>

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: