Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

11 Responses to “The Latest Wave of Arrests: Baathists and Terrorists Are Two Different Things”

  1. Salah said

    مفاجأة من العيار الثقيل حملها جبريل في زيارته الخاطفة الى بغداد وادت الى اعتقال مئات البعثيين

    قالت مصادر حكومية عراقية موثوق بها ان رئيس الحكومة الليبية المؤقتة محمود جبريل حمل في زيارته الخاطفة الى بغداد اوائل الشهر الجاري مفاجأة من العيار الثقيل لرئيس الوزراء العراقي نوري المالكي، وكانت عبارة عن معلومات رسمية ليبية وجدت في مكاتب مخابرات نظام القذافي وتتضمن معلومات وافية عن تنظيم له صلة ببقايا النظام العراق السابق وعناصر بعثية قيادية، يخطط لتوجيه ضربات للعملية السياسية وكان يتمتع بدعم واسع من قبل النظام الليبي المنهار.

  2. Kermanshahi said

    Well there is no doubt that the actual Ba’ath Party is involved with insurgents, many of which came forth from Saddam’s security forces, so if these are actualy people in league with Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, than yes they should be arrested. But if it is just al-Maliki’s political opponents being thrown in jail, out of ideology, than it is indeed outrageous and infact illegal. But we don’t know, do we?

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, look at the numbers and the locations of the arrests. I just find it somewhat hard to believe that there should be sizeable active cells of the Duri wing of the Baath party in places like Basra.

    Also, I fear that in the absence of any relevant legislation, anti-Baathist politicians will bend the terminology to their advantage. For example, today Sami al-Askari warns about the return of the Baath in several forms (literally “under several titles”)

    وأكد العسكري وهو مقرب من رئيس الوزراء نوري المالكي، أن “الجميع الآن أمام مأزق وتحد، وعلينا أن نفرز الخنادق وعلى جميع الكتل أن تختار خندقها إما مع المضي في الديمقراطية وبناء العملية السياسية أو مع حزب البعث وعودته بعناوين متعددة“، مشيرا إلى أن “بعض الأصوات التي نسمعها من القائمة العراقية واضحة بأنها منحازة بشكل كبير إلى حزب البعث والدفاع عن هؤلاء المعتقلين الذين صدرت بحقهم أوامر قضائية”

  4. Observer said

    بغداد/ خاص المدى

    انسحب رئيس الحكومة نوري المالكي غاضباً من جلسة مجلس الوزراء التي عقدت
    أمس إثر مشادة كلامية مع نائبه صالح المطلك على خلفية التطورات السياسية
    الحاصلة في البلاد.ووقعت المشادة الكلامية بسبب موضوع التوازنات في
    الحكومة وملف اجتثاث أساتذة في جامعة تكريت ومحافظات أُخر، وحملات
    الاعتقال الأخيرة، ما أدى إلى انسحاب المالكي غاضباً من الجلسة على إثر
    تلك المشادة.يذكر أن الجلسة بقيت منعقدة بعد خروج المالكي، بحضور العديد
    من الوزراء ونواب رئيس الوزراء.
    وقالت مصادر مقربة من الاجتماع لـ”المدى”، “بعد أن بدأت الجلسة عرض
    المالكي قضية الاجتثاث إلا انه تفاجأ بهجوم غير عادي من قبل نائبه صالح
    المطلك”، ناقلة عن الأخير قوله “إن الوضع بات مزريا بسبب عمليات الاجتثاث
    التي تقوم بها وزارة التعليم العالي والبحث العلمي”، إلا أن رئيس الوزراء
    رد على ذلك بالقول “إن الأمر مرتبط بهيئة المساءلة والعدالة وان قرارات
    الاجتثاث اتخذت بالمشاورة مع الجهات ذات العلاقة”، غير أن هذا الأمر أزعج
    المطلك الذي أكد توقف أعمال هذه الهيئة بقرار اتخذ من رئاسة الوزراء،
    مهددا المالكي بتأجيج الشارع عليه في حال لم تتوقف عمليات الاجتثاث”، مما
    حدا بالأخير ترك الجلسة غاضبا من هذه التهديدات.

    وأكدت المصادر “حدوث حالة من التوتر داخل المنطقة الخضراء اثر هذه
    المشادات، وان وفدا من مقربي المالكي قام بزيارة وزير التعليم العالي من
    اجل احتواء الأزمة التي جاءت بسبب إجراءات اتخذها الأخير بشأن اجتثاث عدد
    من المنتسبين في الجامعات في عدد من محافظات البلاد”.

    Interesting developments. I have other information from the inside but not at liberty to make public….

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Yes, that is interesting, and so is the fact that the presence of Shabandar at the Iraqiyya meeting was apparently not approved by Maliki according to some sources.
    But then again Allawi did not participate at the Iraqiyya meeting, and the Sadrists appear to be moving closer to Maliki right now…

  6. Observer said

    If you ask me, it is all theater. Nobody has the guts to call Malkik’s bluff. It may be Iranian pressure. It maybe the heavy arms that have been smuggled inside Iraq for the last 6 months (I am told that rockets and RPG’s and all sorts of attack weapons have been stockpiled) to attack American bases if they had decided to stay. I am sure that these weapons will be used to “apply pressure” on the Iraqi government to take pro Iranian positions.

    Allawi is in London visiting his family. He was briefed on the meeting but I think Allawi is loosing hope that anything can be done and given the increasing announcements on behalf of Wifaq as opposed to Iraqia maybe a signal that he is intending a different strategy for the next local elections. Bad move for both Wifaq and Iraqia, in my opinion, and Nujaify and Mutlag and company should take note and account for the fact that they may be running alone in the next elections.

  7. Sadoon said

    NYT reports Libyan “rebels” found intelligence connecting Qaddafi to a Baathist plot to overthrow the Iraqi Government. Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s intermin leader, revealed the plot to Maliki in a recent visit to Baghdad. Those arrested were, according to the NYT, linked to the plot.

    One can debate the veracity of this claim- especially since it originates from the NYT. To that end, more revealing than the content is the source. In less than 36 hours of the arrests the NYT puts this intricate story together, which means they had help. So, either the Iraqis have advanced to the point where they are capable of controlling the message in the US, or the someone in or close to the current administration controlled the message for Maliki & co. I’d say it is the latter.

  8. I think the Americans are calling Iran’s bluff, I was skeptical but now I can see how it could be working. Let the Iranians try to stabilize Iraq using their own resources. There may be US-International economic pressure on Maliki from now on. The Iranians are showing reluctance to commit to Assad, lets see how committed they are to Maliki.
    The fracturing of Iraqiya is not good for Maliki either; he will find it even harder to find credible Sunni cooperators. The key crunch for M. will be the choice between a coup and an Iranian style elections.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Sadoon, this is the same item as reported by Salah in comment number one above, based on a report published yesterday morning. Are we sure the story is exclusive to the NYT?

  10. bb said

    Our Australian papers have picked up the story of the Gaddafi connection. It said Jibril made a surprise visit to Baghdad and that after the fall of Tripoli the rebel fighters had found secret intelligence documents linking Gaddafi to the plot. The story actually makes sense, since it seemed odd to me that all these arrests would be made simultaneously and out of the blue when there was no obvious electoral or political gain to be had from it.

  11. Salah said

    Looks now Saudi have hand in the recent Ba’athist saga….

    أكد عضو إئتلاف دولة القانون في البرلمان العراقي “عدنان السراج” أن المملكة العربية السعودية قد ساهمت بتمويل التنظيم الذي كشف عنه مؤخراً في العراق والذي كان يخطط
    للإطاحة بالحكومة بعد انسحاب القوات الأميركية، واصفاً جهد القوات العراقية في الكشف عن هذا المخطط بالنصر الكبير.
    وقال السراج ” أن المملكة العربية السعودية قد ساهمت بتمويل التنظيم الذي كشف عنه مؤخراً في العراق والذي كان يخطط للإطاحة بالحكومة بعد انسحاب القوات الأميركية، واصفاً جهد القوات العراقية في الكشف عن هذا المخطط بالنصر الكبير.

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