Iraq's Accountability and Justice Law.. Will it Achieve Stability?

Dr. Huda Al-Nuaimi: Iraq's Accountabiluty and Justice Law.. Will it Achieve Stability?

  • 3 February 2008

On January 14 2008, Iraqi parliament passed the 'Iraq's Accountability and Justice Law' to replace the 'De-Baathification edict' that was ratified by former American civilian administrator Paul Bremer in April 2003, following the occupation of Iraq. The De-Baathification law is blamed for having worsened the security situation in Iraq, and is said to have provoked mass killings of Baath party members in the country, which was further provoked the issuance of religious edicts to that effect.

The new law, which allows members of the disbanded Baath party to hold government and public sector posts, has arguably come into force a bit late for the purpose of achieving national reconciliation in the country. Nevertheless, it indicates US willingness to enhance security and stability in the country and make use of the existing climate of relative calm in the country, due to its gains in the campaign against Al-Qaeda. However, this law has drawn a mixed response from various quarters. Some have called it a necessary measure for restoring peace and mending the social fabric, while others have criticized the move on the premise that it would allow Baath Party members to regain positions of power.

However, given the complexities of Iraq's internal situation that is characterized by the rapid spawning of new political players and rising number of conflicts fueled by disparate foreign interests, it has become difficult to contain the present clash of cultures in the country. This clash has exposed inherent social anomalies, power struggle, and cultural and directional differences in the country and point toward continuance of the conflict due to lack of trust among all sides.

Therefore, optimism has to be tempered with caution in accepting the new law as a means for assuaging the passion for revenge among many Baath party affiliates, or as a means for curtailing the role played by Iranian intelligence agencies in carrying out assassination operations against Baath party members through their proxy militias. Until recently, the US was not bothered about the fate of Baath party members and remained silent on the hideous operations and mass killings to the extent that de-Baathification appeared to be a deliberate ploy for building a regime dominated by Shiite militias and Islamist parties.

In other words, the law of de-Baathification seemed to be the handiwork of a US-Iranian nexus, which was meant to support the emergence of Shiite Islamic parties on the political scene. Thus, the removal of Baath members was a step toward establishing a culture of submission and a reign of fear that was essentially similar to the political culture of the former regime.

The idea that the new law is meant to appease Sunni Arabs is misleading; as the current government is not interested in forging political partnership or ensuring that the armed forces remain free of partisanship and adopt standards of efficiency and merit for appointments to important posts. The government has dealt with Baath members based on their sectarian denominations, and has separated them into two categories. The first category is said to belong to those Baathists who were forced to join the Party in order to avoid harm. These members, it is believed, deserve sympathetic consideration. The second category, however, is said to include those who were ardent supporters of the party and its orientations, and so could not be treated sympathetically. However, the big question lies in the standards being set to differentiate between the two categories of Baath party members. What is the basis for judging and placing Baath members in these categories? The questions remain unanswered.

Iraqi politicians have manipulated the terms 'minority' and 'majority' to promote their political interests since the occupation. In this context, it would be important to note that most Baath party members were from the community holding a majority in society, and the claim that Baath party was representative of only one sect is false. The Baath party drew its members from all sectarian and ethnic denominations of Iraq.

The administrative reasons forwarded for amendment to the de-Baathification law seem justified. The law had barred experienced and qualified professionals from working in state institutions. However, it was not possible to replace them with equally qualified staff. This caused a lot of confusion in the administrative work of Iraq's government and public establishments, and the return of the old staff became necessary for restoring the smooth functioning of various important organizations. In other words, forces that supported the occupation did not have the practical capabilities or a clear vision for running state institutions.

Some people say that Iraqi government is biased against members of the Baath party and has blown up the vices and misdeeds of the latter out of proportion. Others say that it has itself turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption of present political and militia leaders, who are involved in the embezzlement of national wealth and are getting kickbacks in the grant of reconstruction contracts. Common Iraqis are said to be repeating the old refrain: 'One Pharaoh comes as the other Pharaoh leaves.'

The tendency to exterminate all kinds of opposition has sadly entrenched itself into the destiny of Iraq. The trend has become even more pronounced and widespread now, as it is presently targeting a wider spectrum of opposing forces. These include various sectarian and ethnic blocs or ambitious rivals that could pose a threat in the future. Thus, 'chronic Saddamism' has become a kind of a mental fixation with Iraq's political players and it would be difficult to overcome it. It seems the new crop of political leaders have simply inherited the methods and techniques of the former Baathist regime that employed violent means to get rid of opposition forces, even if it entailed bloody massacres, loss of public wealth and desecration of human norms and values.

Undoubtedly, this new law is the outcome of Iraq's turbulent state, which the country has endured for decades. This climate is saturated with mutual doubts and suspicions, accusations of treason, the inability to accept the other side, schemes of sedition, fear of coups and takeovers. For these reasons, it is unclear how many Baath members would choose to benefit from this law and regain their lost jobs,especially after the bloody events of recent years.

A clear bias is noticeable in the manner of implementation of the new law; as this piece of legislation allows all those to hold government positions who were only formally members of the Baath party. The question is how could a formal and unwilling acceptance of Baath Party membership be determined? What are the applicable criteria? Will these criteria be limited to one particular group of members and not others?

At this moment, no one knows about the accepted criteria or bases for sorting out Baath Party members. Adding to the confusion are revelations like the one made by former Iraqi interior minister Bayan Jabr Solagh, who publicly admitted that Iraq's infamous dungeons'now under the control of Iraq's Interior Ministry'continue to employ Baath party officials for carrying out acts of torture for the new government. . However, he has not given more details in this regard.

Many Baath party members believe that the law is a trap set by the present government to draw in former Baath Party members and punish them at a later stage. They claim that this law is not different from the old De-Baathification law, but is even more stringent. They claim it has annulled the rights of the President from the Accountability and Justice committee, who earlier had the power to absolve anyone found guilty. That right has now passed onto the council of ministers.

It is not easy to debar any political party, especially the Iraqi Baath party that had ruled the country for over three decades and boasted a membership of around two million people,representing a fifth of Iraq,s adult population and around half the number of adult men. It is not possible to defeat a particular ideology, unless its votaries and supporters are willing to do so themselves. The Baath party had made this mistake when it tried to wipe out other well-established parties of Iraq, which had made significant historical contributions to the country.

What is missing in Iraq nowadays is the existence of a unifying nationalistic culture that could work toward integrating its diverse communities into a cohesive national framework. Iraqi society is currently facing two major threats,the first relates to the inheritance of an autocratic system of governance that monopolizes power and centralizes thought and institutions. The second threat issues from the political culture created by the occupation that has sought to destroy existing social and cultural institutions and has unleashed the internal contradictions of the political, social and ideological constituents of society.

Good intentions and laws alone do not achieve national reconciliation. It is a comprehensive process that demands concessions and compromise of each party, and requires important government intervention at the political, social, and economic levels. At the same time, national reconciliation should be a voluntary endeavor for it to flourish. The conflicting parties should understand the necessity of achieving reconciliation because only through it could the interests of all parties be secured.