Saturday, January 12, 2008

De-Baathification Passes (Updated)

By Cernig

At last, the measure that many on the Left had always said was crucially important if Iraq was to reclaim long-term stability - undoing the Bush administration's incredibly stupid decision to ban any and all who had been Ba'ath Party members from holding posts in government - has passed unanimously in the Iraqi parliament, albeit with a slim majority of possible votes. Although everyone present voted for the bill, only 143 lawmakers out of 275 turned up.

This is, without a doubt, good news for Iraqis despite those who boycotted the vote - among them some hardline Sunnis. As John Cole writes today:
To date, all of the mindless cheerleading from the usual suspects about the success of the surge has been utterly meaningless, as there have been no acts of political reconciliation, the stated goal of the surge. This might be the start of that reconciliation, and may start everyone down the path towards long-term sustainable peace. We can hope.
And Captain Ed nails it too:
This allows Sunnis to retake their jobs and join the Shi'ites and Kurds in administering government functions, especially in Sunni areas. It gives them a stake in the new, representative government instead of being shut out of it. Sunnis will now have every reason to support the central government in Baghdad rather than attempting to undermine it to get back what they lost in the fall of Saddam, and they won't need to again adopt the fascist Ba'ath principles to do so.

This looks like progress to me.
Great. Spot on. Then Ed fails at the next jump.
It's progress that wouldn't have come without lowering the violence and removing the provocations and depredations of al-Qaeda in Iraq. That wouldn't have happened at all had we not ramped up our efforts and taken a much more aggressive posture against the terrorists -- and the Sunnis would not have cooperated if we hadn't signaled so strongly that we intended to beat AQI and stick it out.

It's progress that wouldn't have come if the Sunnis of Anbar hadn't turned on AQI independently of and prior to the Surge, deciding that whatever else was happening AQ was bad for them. It's progress that wouldn't have come if the Awakening hadn't put together a cohesive 70,000 member militia army which could, should it wish to, create a de facto seperate state out of the Sunni heartlands and make anything the Green Zone's gravy train said or did redundant. The credit for ousting AQ and successfully pressuring the cental government goes entirely to the Anbaris and their Sunni sahwar friends in other areas. The most the Surge's commanders can truthfully claim is spotting what was going on then getting behind it and pushing with lots of money and guns. It's highly debatable whether any troops were actually needed at all.

And as always in Iraq, the story is more complicated than it first appears. If the occupation authorities hadn't first blocked the ba'athists and if central government Shiites hadn't tried so hard to give Sunnis no local voice whatsoever - then they wouldn't be faced with the prospect of a 70,000 member army led by local warlords who are not, at present, beholden to the central government in any way whatsoever and over whom they have very little leverage. That's going to be the next big problem (well, that and Mookie - his ceasefire is due to end in March). There are still other reconcilliation legislations held up in Green Zone politicking too. While this is a very positive step, Iraq isn't out of the woods yet.

Update It seems I may have been too quick to swallow the initial version of this news. In comments to this post, Dubhaltach of Gorrilas Guides - a combined English and Arabic site on Iraqi happenings - writes that all is not as rosy as it has been pained. For a start, the measure only passed by a majority of a quorum and it still has to be ratified by the presidential council (the president and both VP's) which he thinks may be problemmatic. He also notes that the main ba'athist website opposes the measure as it requires registration of former party members - and someone has been killing of former army officers. The implication is that registration will make that easier. The Sadrist site Nahrainet called it a "Black day in the history of Irak" and the National Dialogue Front said it was "unworkable".

Also, via Kevin Drum, comes a report in the WaPo which quotes Ali al-Lami, spokesman for the current de-Baathification commission, saying that the law will make it easier to get rid of even more Sunnis:
The new measure could lead to a new purge of members of the current Iraqi government, Lami said, including about 7,000 officers in the Interior Ministry. Even influential Iraqi security force officials who used to be Baathists could face removal.

"The commander of the Baghdad security plan and his assistants, according to the new law, they should retire," he said.
The NY Times is also hedging its bets some. Dubhaltach writes "progress my foot." My colleague Libby says "This appears to be more a parliamentary parlor trick designed to play to the US audience than it is a real breakthrough in placating the displaced Baathists. In fact, the Baathists lose more than they gain with this new legislation." This is a squandered opportunity. Ah well.

It remains true, however, that we "Lefty defeatists" have been saying since word one that de-ba'athification was a bad idea and that legislation which would properly repeal it and give former ba'ath party members a chance to return to government without persecution is an essential ingredient in making Iraq a viable state. Of course, now that the US Right have embraced our ideas, we don't get any credit for having them first.

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