Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for October 26th, 2011

The Latest Wave of Arrests: Baathists and Terrorists Are Two Different Things

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 13:29

The full picture is only beginning to emerge after two days of widespread arrests involving hundreds of people across Iraq. Most of those arrested are described as “Baathists”, with vague accusations about plans to subvert the political process in Iraq after the US withdrawal.

The prosecution has yet to speak on these cases, but disturbing language has been employed by those who carried out the arrests: In many cases their choice of words suggests those arrested were not targeted for any specific planned act or terrorism or even for lauding the Baath party, but simply for having been members of the Baath party in the past. In yet other cases, vague accusations of terrorism are coupled with specific information about membership levels in the Baath party. Here are some excerpts from the initial reports:

On 24 October, 28 persons were arrested south of Kirkuk, “among them 12 of the firqa or shaaba membership level” in the Baath party according to local police sources.

On 24 October, police sources in Diyala said 15 persons in Muqdadiyya had been arrested, mostly firqa members of the Baath.

On 24 October, police sources in Babel said 50 persons had been arrested, among them firqa and shaaba members of the Baath.

On 25 October, sources in the security committee in the Basra governorate said 30 persons had been arrested, some of whom were members at the firqa level.

On 25 October, security sources in Diyala said more than 30 persons had been arrested across the governorate, including some firqa level members of the Baath.

Why are these sources so obsessed with membership rank? A terrorist is a terrorist no matter what background he or she has, right? The systematic reference to membership ranks instead of specific accusations of terrorism strongly suggests that a dangerous conflation of the concepts of “Baathists” and “terrorists” has taken place, and that some are being arrested simply for having been a member of the Baath in the past rather than for any specific criminal act.

Suffice to say in this context that the Iraqi constitution actually offers pro-active protection of former members of the Baath. Article 135-5 explicitly says “mere membership of the Baath party is not a sufficient basis for transfer to the court”. Article 7 of the constitution outlaws propagation of a number of political ideologies where Baathism is mentioned alongside racism, terrorism and ethnic cleansing, but stipulates the passage of a law by parliament to codify this more precisely, which has yet to be done. In other words, there is no basis whatsoever for prosecuting anyone for simply having been a Baathist member – and arguably, at the current time, not even for propagation of Baathism since this is not covered by any specific form of legislation.

The systematic information about membership levels strongly suggests this is an attempt to refer to Iraq’s de-Baathification legislation from 2008. But it is a flawed attempt. The de-Baathification legislation is only interested in membership level as a principle governing the reinstatement of former Baath officials in the public sector. High levels like shaaba members are not allowed to return, but firqa members are specifically allowed to return with the exceptions of security, intelligence and diplomatic services. The de-Baathification act does not in itself offer specific procedures for dealing with allegations of Baathist sympathies.

This is of course not the first time vague accusations of Baathism are being used as a basis for vigilante witch hunts against political opponents in Iraq. The pro-Iranian Shiite Islamist parties made such efforts the centrepiece of their election campaign in 2010, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki eventually jumped on the bandwagon, too. In this most recent case, the wave of arrest was preceded by a campaign of sacking personnel from the higher education sector headed by Maliki ally Ali al-Adib, where again ideas about de-Baathification and allegations of “incompetence” made up an uneasy mix. At the local level, outright attempts by Shiite Islamist parties to actually overrule the de-Baathification legislation were noted both in November 2010 and in June 2011.

The arrests were mostly carried out by the ministry of interior. As is well known, the acting minister of interior is Nuri al-Maliki himself, suggesting this could all be yet another element in his minority-government strategy.

The consequences for the climate of Iraqi politics are palpable. Sunni-Shiite issues over de-Baathification, Sunni interest in federalism… These are certainly good days for the Kurdish leader Masud Barzani to visit Kirkuk! For good measure, some reports also suggest the Iraqi judiciary has now decided to drop charges against Muqtada al-Sadr for his involvement in the murder of Abd al-Majid al-Khoei in 2003. (Today, in turn, Sadr expressed support for what the government is doing with de-Baathication in higher education.)

It was reported yesterday that Izzat Shabandar, the State of Law Alliance strategist in chief for dialogue between Maliki and Sunnis and secularists, did in fact attend a crisis meeting of Iraqiyya. His cause, if it even exists anymore, must now be something of an uphill struggle.

Posted in De-Baathification, Iraqi constitutional issues | 11 Comments »