Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been forced to make new concessions to Sunni demonstrators and is finally losing his firm grip on the Accountability and Justice Law, also known as de-Baathification.
Iraqi legislators passed a 2008 law designed to dismantle the Baath Party’s entities in Iraq, bring to justice any members who committed acts of violence against Iraqis and deprive those members of public-sector jobs.
The Maliki government was accused of double standards in implementing of the law. Some alleged that Maliki exempted Baathists who showed allegiance to him.
Rafie Rifai, the Mufti of Iraq and a Sunni cleric, says: “Maliki is selective in dealing with the Accountability and Justice Law, because many employees at his office would be affected by this law. However, he is enforcing it on university professors and ordinary people.”
Maliki has denied these accusations on several occasions, and he has tried to distance himself from suspicions that he could abuse his power in applying the law. In a recent television interview, Maliki said, “The government has nothing to do with the work of independent bodies, which include the one in charge of overseeing the implementation of the law. It prosecutes perpetrators of crimes and does not target innocent Baathists.”
Maliki and the ruling Shiite coalition bowed to pressure from the Shiite religious authority in Najaf, which told a delegation representing Maliki that it intends to curb his ambitions and carefully examine “Sunni complaints.” Immediately afterwards, Maliki established a high-level committee, led by his prominent Shiite ally Hussain al-Shahristani, who made decisions that favored dozens of Iraqi Baathists.
The law calls for "the submission of evidence and documents — available at the accountability and justice commission — on crimes committed by the Baath Party’s members and repressive security apparatus against citizens to the Iraqi judiciary through the public prosecutor’s office.”
The law calls for the firing all employees who were members of branch or senior leadership in the Baath Party as well as the party's security personnel.
The government ultimately decided to return 4,200 confiscated properties, as well as grant pension rights to 2,936 people who were subject to the sanctions of the Accountability and Justice Law.
At a press conference in Baghdad attended by Al-Monitor, Falah Shanshal, chairman of the accountability and justice commission and a Shiite leader within Muqtada al-Sadr's movement, discussed 962 former officers and soldiers from the Mosul province. A number of former Iraqi army officers and prominent leaders of the Baath Party had complained about unemployment and the law that confiscated their property. Shanshal spoke about decisions he had implemented after receiving directives from Shahristani, who previously told Al-Monitor that “a new decision was issued to return confiscated properties to those included in the Accountability and Justice Law and their relatives.”
Sunni demonstrators in Ramadi, Mosul and Tikrit demanded the annulment of the Accountability and Justice Law. They claim it it targets them more than others.
It is unlikely that Shiite forces will agree to this demand, but pressure exerted by the religious authorities in Najaf pushed them to amend the law.
The chairman of parliament's accountability and justice commission, Shiite Member of Parliament Qais Chidhr, said that the commission submitted new draft amendments, which he believed to be a compromise between the Sunni demonstrators’ demands and the Maliki government’s point of view.
The implementation of the law was colored by political decisions. Maliki used it as a weapon to eliminate his political opponents.
During the 2010 legislative elections, Maliki isolated his opponent on the Iraqiya List, the Sunni leader Saleh al-Mutlaq, under a legal clause that excluded him from political action. Maliki claimed that Mutlaq was a member of the Baath Party and had organized trade deals with individuals close to Saddam Hussein. However, Maliki altered his decision after a partnership agreement. Their relationship normalized, and Mutlaq became vice-president of Maliki’s government.
A source close to the commission in charge of drafting the new amendments said that the draft will not include provisions to exempt perpetrators of crimes from sanctions. However, it will expand the base of those eligible for retirement and increase the possibility of exemption from sanctions. The source also discussed amendments that may wind up subject to political debates.
Ali Abel Sadah is a writer and journalist from Baghdad working in both Iraqi and Arab media. He was the editorial manager of a number of local newspapers, and was a political and cultural reporter for over 10 years.