Monday, February 04, 2008

The Devil Is in the Implementation

For those following the saga of the De-De-Baathification law that has drawn sharp criticisms from Sunni elements both inside and out of the Iraqi government, it appears that the law will be enacted despite the objections:

But within days of its passage, the presidency council hesitated on ratifying the law. Vice President Tariq Hashimi, a Sunni, said the three-man presidency had objected to clauses in the legislation that banned anyone who had served in Hussein's special security organs from working in the new forces.

Another contentious section involved members from the fourth-highest level of the Baath Party. The law would block them from serving in the country's judiciary council or the foreign, interior and defense ministries.

High-ranking officials who had been granted waivers to return to work would be fired.

Hashimi said Saturday that the presidency council would submit amendments to parliament in the coming weeks but would not prevent the law from going into effect after today.

That amendment process could prove a bit thorny, though. According to an al-Hayat piece summarized by Juan Cole:

[T]he Sadrist MP who heads the committee that produced the new debaathification legislation, says that parliament is reluctant to amend the law it submitted, but might consider minor revisions that did not contradict the thrust of the legislation. The Sadrists appear to be using the opportunity to revise the laws on former Baath members to disadvantage Sunni Arabs in some ways, and they are resisting VP Tariq al-Hashimi's attempts to remove those parts of the legislation. The new law is not likely actually to lead to greater harmony or reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites.

Perhaps the most important facet of this law when gauging the impact that it could have on political reconciliation is, as Spencer Ackerman notes, its implementation mechanism. To paraphrase the old military truisim, amateurs talk big picture, professionals talk implementation. Feisal al-Istrabadi, interviewed by Foreign Policy magazine a few weeks back on this subject, had a similar admonition:

The current law attempts to, at least on its face, reverse this trend. In theory, yes, it should be a positive step toward reconciliation. But of course how the law is applied becomes extremely important.

A closer look at the enforcement method leaves much to be desired:

Another part of the legislation that has been criticized is the makeup of the new de-Baathification body. It is the same as the old one, just with a new name.

"The fact the committee remains would be among my main concerns. It was tied to charges of corruption and politicization -- and that is likely to continue," said a U.S. diplomat who has worked in Iraq. [...]

Its ultimate test will be how the Iraqi government enforces the measures.

"The new law is scarcely generous towards the Baath, but this may not matter if Iraq's Shiites use it to exclude Sunnis regardless of their true alignment with the Baath, and do not continue to exclude far more Baathists than the law really calls for," said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. [emphasis added]

There are some mildly encouraging aspects, however:

On the positive side, the new law will set up an appeals court, headed by judges, in contrast to the previous process, under which people could turn only to the commission to challenge dismissals.

Unfortunately, the judiciary in Iraq has increasingly been coming under attack, and is susceptible to the 'prerogatives' of power like almost all other institutions.

(cross-posted at TIA)

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