Skip to comments.About-turn as Allawi reaches out to purged Ba'athists
Posted on 07/01/2004 5:04:24 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
In a tower block of government officers inside the Green Zone, 200 Iraqi investigators screen millions of government files on a mission to purge Iraq of the regime that ruled for 36 years.
They have been hired to hunt down Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party. The walls are plastered with posters of mass graves, Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein both with their arms raised in salute, and slogans of "Ba'athism = Nazism".
When Paul Bremer became coalition administrator in Baghdad in May last year, regime-change dominated thinking. Mr Bremer's first order was to fire the top four tiers of the ruling party - some 30,000 members - and disband Mr Hussein's 750,000-strong security apparatus, including the army. All but three of the oil ministry's 25 director-generals were replaced.
"There will be no return for the Ba'ath and Saddam," said Ahmad Chalabi, then the Pentagon's favourite exiled Iraqi politician, after he arrived in Iraq in April 2003. "We have to purge our security forces and de-Ba'athise the society."
One year on the tables have turned. Mr Chalabi has fled Baghdad, accused of supplying US intelligence to Iran, and Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, a former Ba'ath party member himself, is welcoming Ba'athists back to their jobs, in an about-turn Iraqis rhythmically refer to as de-de-Ba'athification.
In an interview this week with the Lebanese television channel, LBC, Mr Allawi - who said he took part in the 1968 Ba'athist coup - portrayed himself as leading the true path of the Ba'ath, while Mr Hussein and "a handful" of followers were "a deviation".
"A handful of straying and criminal people led by Saddam assumed power in Iraq, harmed the party and Iraq and exploited the party, unfortunately, as a tool for repression," he said. "And this is why I forcefully confronted this deviation since that time and while I was still in Baghdad. I am honoured to have confronted this deviation."
"My affiliation with the Báath party has made me gain a great political experience," he added.
Throughout the 1990s, Mr Allawi and Mr Chalabi, who were classmates at school, led two rival camps jostling for US patronage. The CIA favoured Mr Allawi's vision of a tight military coup, which would replace Mr Hussein with a pro-western autocrat, while preserving the existing order. The Pentagon backed Mr Chalabi's vision of regime change, leading to a new democratic Middle East order.
But the Pentagon's initial enthusiasm for regime change faltered in the face of an insurgency fuelled by thousands of civil servants and soldiers, dismissed from their jobs in the name of de-Ba'athification. After a series of humiliating compromises, Washington has buried the policy by discarding Mr Chalabi and appointing Mr Allawi prime minister.
The opponents of de-Ba'athification point out that Iraq's Ba'ath party was largely moribund by the eve of war, with scant fresh blood in its leadership. Most of its 3m members were opportunists or had no choice but to join - paying lip-service to the party in order to advance their careers.
Speaking yesterday at his swearing-in ceremony - against a backdrop of the old Iraqi flag - Mr Allawi reiterated the message of national reconciliation he has propounded for a year, and promised to halt the witch-hunt.
De-Ba'athification, he said, had deprived government departments of their best technocrats and triggered the collapse of an Iraqi state.
Analysts say that unlike the exile-dominated Governing Council, Mr Allawi's cabinet includes at least five ministers who were middle- ranking Báathists before the war.
In meetings with ousted party members, Mr Allawi has promised to speed up the re-integration of some 15,000 civil servants still barred from their posts, award substantial pensions to employees of the disbanded security forces and the disbanded information ministry, and he has mooted an amnesty for Iraqis suspected of attacking occupation troops.
Mr Chalabi's associates have protested that Mr Allawi's policies are illegal. "The committee will bar ministers who try to return a Ba'athist who has committed a crime to work," says Haider al Bander, the de-Ba'athification committee's secretary. "The law is above all - even Iyad Allawi."
But few are listening. "De-Ba'athification is dead," admits Amar Al Shahbandar, an activist with Mr Chalabi's INC party in Baghdad. The demise has been hailed by former Ba'athists, many of whom see their reintegration as a crucial step to healing the country's Sunni-led insurgency.
"There will never be peace if they do not resolve this problem," says a former director-general in Mr Hussein's oil ministry.
Mishaan Jabouri, whose Homeland party seeks to represent former Báathists, said: "Allawi is sending a message of peace to Arab Sunni families, all of whom had at least one Báath party member."
Edward Chaplin, who arrives in Baghdad next week as Britain's ambassador to Iraq, told the FT yesterday: "Clearly, he [Allawi] is not going to reach out to people who are just out to create mayhem and anarchy . . but former Ba'athists and other members of the regime, people from the Sunni community who feel excluded from the political process . . the Iraqi government is going to want to have an avenue open for them to see whether they want to take advantage of peaceful means of making their voice heard in the political process."
As I recall, Patton went against orders after WWII and used some ex-NAZI engineers, etc., to get Germany up and going again. He was reprimanded and the process took a lot longer.