Saturday, January 12, 2008

Throwing out optimism with De-Baath water - Updated

By Libby Spencer

It's surely big news that Iraq finally passed a De-Baathification law but marching as usual to my own drum, I seem to be the only one who isn't all that encouraged by it. The reactions range from Capt. Ed's rousing cheers to Cernig's more tempered optimism, but I find I'm concerned by this aspect of the agreement.

The law will allow low-ranking Baathists not involved in past crimes against Iraqis to go back to their jobs. High-ranking Baathists will be sent to compulsory retirement and those involved in crimes will stand trial, though their families will still have the right to pension.

I wonder what that really means on a practical level. To me it sounds like the Baathists will be allowed to hold positions as let's just say DMV clerks, but the administrators and the chief of the DOT would still be limited to Shia. Suppose, we divided up authority here in that manner between Democrats and Republicans. Do you think it would satisfy the party holding the short end of the stick? I don't and I wonder how much of this is for show to satisfy US pressure for parliamentary results.

Certainly this reaction from a Sunni leader would add some weight to my concerns.

Inside parliament, when the Kurdish lawmakers raised their hands in favor of the article that the members of Saddam's security bodies should be sent to compulsory retirement, the Sunni Arab parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, told the Kurds: "Now you raise your hands in favor of sending Saddam's security men to retirement, while earlier you reinstated the Kurds who collaborated with or worked for Saddam to government jobs in Kurdistan." [...]

"Are your donkeys better than our donkeys?" al-Mashhadani asked, referring to Kurds who used to work for Saddam's security operations.

I truly hope for the sake of the Iraqi people that my pessimism is misplaced but I just can't shake the feeling that this is more a parliamentary parlor trick designed to play to the US audience than it is a real breakthrough in placating the displaced Baathists.

Update: Unfortunately, Juan Cole validates my pessimism.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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