Wednesday, January 23, 2008


last week, i mentioned that one of the benchmarks for measuring the success of the surge had been met with the passage of the iraqi de-baathification law. a day later, i noted that there were already questions about whether the law that passed really could be called a "de-baathification law" if it possibly excluded more former baathists than it de-baathicizes. but now it's becoming increasingly clear that the "de-baathification law" is no such thing.

the idea of "de-baathification" is to reverse an earlier mistake in the iraq war, when the u.s. military decreed that many members of the baathist party would be barred from holding most jobs. the decree did permit some former baathists to be "de-baathicized" (i.e. retain their right to hold a job), but the process of de-baathicization was criticized because it excluded a lot more former baathists than it allowed to work.

like in a lot of dictatorial systems, you needed to be a member of the ruling party to get anywhere professionally in saddam's iraq. the decree meant that an estimated 140,000 iraqis lost their jobs overnight and found themselves to be effectively unemployable. creating such a large group of unemployed people impoverished the country, further turned the iraqi people against the u.s., and created a fertile reservoir of recruits for the insurgency. it also helped create the sectarian civil war, as the decree hit sunni arabs disproportionately, shutting them out of much of public life in favor of the shia. in addition, the new iraqi government administered de-baathification unfairly. if a former baathist was shia, it was presumed that the individual was not a true believer and had only joined for professional reasons, whereas if the former baathist was sunni, there was no such presumption. the anti-baathist decree effectively became an anti-sunni arab decree, and was a tool for the shia-dominated government to shut out sunni rivals from the levers of power.

so the idea of having a new "de-baathification" law would be to replace the original decree with a method of bringing back more former baathist party members into the mainstream. a new de-baathification law was viewed as being critical to fixing the mess of iraq, and that's why bush specifically cited de-baathification in his january 10, 2007 speech announcing the surge and why it became one of the 18 benchmarks to measure the surge's success.

but now it looks like the law does precisely the opposite, excludes some of the people who were already cleared as de-baathicized under the post-invasion decree. in short, the law is a sham. instead of opening the doors to former baathist as the de-baathification law was supposed to do, the new law is slamming the door shut.

technically, i guess the new law does fulfill the surge benchmark. the iraqi parliament has "reform[ed the] de-Baathification laws" as the president called for in his surge speech. but contrary to the president's hails, it's hard to see how the new law does anything but compound what is widely viewed as a serious early mistake in iraq.