Iraq and Gulf Analysis

De-Baathification in the Iraqi Provincial Elections by Governorate and Political Entity

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 10 March 2013 21:54

Exactly as in the 2010 parliamentary elections, the release of official candidate lists for the 20 April local elections is a two-tiered process. An initial batch of approved candidates – the majority of 8,099 vetted candidates – has been released first. Candidates that have been struck from the lists due to problems with their candidature have their names suppressed in the first list, but they can appeal. If they succeed, they will appear in an addendum to the official candidate lists, to be published by IHEC separately.

Also like in 2010, it is possible to use the statistics of omitted candidates from the released lists of candidates as an indication of de-Baathification issues and how they affect different political entities and geographical regions of Iraq. True, omitted candidates also include a minority of people whose exclusion may relate to other factors, such as criminal charges or forged documents. There are also a host of other methodological issues to keep in mind. Nonetheless, since the majority of the omissions appear to relate to de-Baathification, these statistics do offer a sufficiently distinctive picture to say something about how people’s relationship with the old Baathist regime are still having an impact across Iraq .


The picture that emerges from a tabulation of this data is quite clear, and very similar to 2010. In terms of party allegiances, the Shiite Islamists and Kurds generally have few problems with de-Baathifications. It is noteworthy that whereas Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki did have some de-Baathification issues in 2010, this time his lists have been mostly untouched by the de-Baathification committee. On the other hand, the secular and Sunni-dominated parties are represented disproportionately among the entities targeted for de-Baathification. Iraqiyya stands out, accounting for the lion’s share of all likely de-Baathification cases. A similar fate has befallen some (but not all) of the Iraqiyya splinter groups, a case in point being Free Iraqiyya. (Conversely, White, the mainly Shiite breakaway group from Iraqiyya has apparently not experienced any nomination trouble at all.) The unwavering cross-sectarian partisans of Nadim al-Jabiri and Mahmud al-Mashaddani have only managed to put up a list in Baghdad; it too seems to have a few cases of de-Baathification. Three interesting but far less known entities are 429, 492 and 517. All of them stand out for making an attempt at running in several provinces, and all of them figure disproportionately among the likely de-Baathification cases. They include Wasfi Asi Hussein, the leader of list 517 who ran with Maliki in 2010; he is now contesting Baghdad and Anbar. Other local (i.e. one-governorate) lists with notable nomination trouble include 401 and 435.

Geographically, it is also a well known story we are dealing with. South of Baghdad, there is now hardly any de-Baathification at all after an extra-judicial witch hunt of anyone with ties to the Baath blossomed during the months prior to the March 2010 parliamentary elections.  The majority of de-Baathification cases are from the Sunni-majority areas as well as the capital Baghdad, with Nineveh taking the biggest share of the total. It is noteworthy though that the generally close ties between the northern regions and the regime affect even candidates on the Shiite and Kurdish lists. The few cases of Shiite de-Baathification issues that can be found arise in the north, and even Kurds in Nineveh appear to have problems getting some of their candidates approved.

One final indicator worthy of consideration relates to the list rank of the de-Baathified and disapproved candidates. With respect to some entities – again often the Shiite parties – the few cases of excluded candidates that appear are far down the list and may relate to sloppy documentation and oversight by the party leadership who may not care that much what happens to bottom-of-the-list candidates. However, certain lists have seen their top candidates slashed in what amounts to highly symbolic moves against their leaderships. One example is the list of Iraqiyya politician Saleh al-Mutlak in Baghdad, which has yet to get its top candidate approved. (Maybe Mutlak’s reported support for Maliki recently in settling the budget against the wishes of the Kurds will help him once again.) Other such entities include list 429, which seems to be the personal creation of one Rushdi Saidi who is presumably the top candidate in Baghdad for whom approval remains lacking. Same story with 468 in Karbala and 505 in Diyala. These are lists and figures worth keeping an eye on simply for the fact that the de-Baathification committee finds it worthwhile to target them at the top.

Of course, this year’s de-Baathification purge comes against the backdrop of the big controversy relating to Midhat al-Mahmud, the supreme court chief. Mahmud was recently himself subjected to de-Baathification, although the de-Baathification appeals board subsequently approved his appeal and reinstated him, saying they found no trace of any connection to the Baath. That is somewhat hard to believe given Mahmud’s elaborate CV of achievements in the judicial system of Iraq since the 1990s, but then again it would be an exaggeration to say that the de-Baathification law has been applied to the letter since it was passed in 2008. The political context of the reinstatement of Mahmud suggests the Sadrists caved in to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in this case by letting the prime minister replace the Sadrist head of the de-Baathification board – and perhaps with the message that de-Baathification needs not be applied quite so strictly when it comes to Shiites. Recent Sadrist alignment with Maliki to get the budget passed despite the demands of the Kurds and the boycott of Iraqiyya is an indication of the same trend. Judge Midhat has quickly moved to reassert himself by sacking the court spokesperson and striking down a piece of legislation passed by the Iraqi parliament without consulting the government; the recent attempt to limit the term limits of the prime minister will likely suffer the same fate.

Regarding this latest act of mass de-Baathification, the statistics speak for themselves as regards who is being hit. It should be added, though, that if the law had been applied evenly and if the appointment of the de-Baathification board had been less politicised there would probably have been greater numbers of disqualifications on both sides, among Sunnis and Shiites alike. Many ex-Baathists of either sect are probably able to run simply thanks to wasta (informal patronage) rather than fulfilment of the judicial requirements – consider for example how unscathed the list of parliament speaker Nujayfi is.

A “state of law” it certainly isn’t.

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