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What does de-Baathification mean for Iraq's Kurds?

Given the Baath regime crimes against the Kurds, the Kurdish street is angered at the several scandals, including that the KRG did not react to the law to ban the Baath Party.
People hold up Baath Party flags during a rally to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the foundation of the party at al-Sabaa Bahrat square in Damascus April 7, 2012. The Baath Party has ruled Syria since 1963. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri (SYRIA - Tags: ANNIVERSARY POLITICS ) - RTR30GAR

ERBIL, Iraq — Thirteen years after the fall of the Baath Party, Iraq's parliament voted in favor of a law to ban the Baath Party on July 30. The law caused widespread reactions in the Iraqi Arab street. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the vote in favor of the law as "victory." The law has given the Shiite parliamentary blocs further momentum to vote in favor of other laws against the Baathists.

State of Law Coalition parliamentarian Adnan Chahmani said Aug. 6, "The [Shiite] National Alliance is determined to pass the Accountability Law next Tuesday [Aug. 9] to turn the page of the Baath [Party] once and for all at the doctrinal and political levels." He accused the majority of the Sunni Iraqi Forces Alliance's members of supporting "the Baath [Party]."

In the Iraqi Kurdish arena, there were no worthwhile reactions, as the Kurdish people had the lion's share of the oppression and genocide at the hands of the Baath authorities. Although some Iraqi segments still deny crimes committed against the Kurds by the Baath regime — such as the Anfal campaigns that killed more than 180,000 Kurdish people — a law criminalizing this denial has not been passed yet in the Kurdistan Region, similar to the law criminalizing Holocaust denial adopted in Germany and elsewhere.

Not only does the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) seem uninterested in the matter of Baath crimes against the Kurdish people, but it is also accused of harboring former Baathists and collaborators in their crimes. Armed Kurdish groups consisting of tens of thousands of fighters, known as the Light Regiments, joined the Baath regime in its numerous crimes against the Kurdish people in the 1970s and 1980s.

All Kurdish armed collaborators of the Baath regime were granted amnesty in 1992 under the amnesty law by the Kurdish parties at the time. They were allowed to have access to key administrative and political posts in the country, and were awarded high military ranks. This had caused resentment among human rights activists who viewed the integration and access of defendants to senior posts in the Kurdish administration as a wrong decision, particularly since some of them are still wanted by the Iraqi High Tribunal.

Websites close to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused the KRG of harboring a large number of Baathists persecuted in Baghdad and of using this as leverage during negotiations on contentious matters, leading to objections among the Kurds. Sot Kurdistan newspaper said in this regard that Erbil has turned into "a hotbed for the former and new Baathists."

Some officials categorically denied the presence of Baathists in the Kurdistan Region. The KRG's Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs Mahmoud Haji Salih told Al-Monitor, "There are no Baathists in the Kurdistan Region, and I know nothing about a law banning the Baath Party in Baghdad." Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Farid Asserd has a similar position. He told Al-Monitor, "There are no Baathists in the Kurdistan Region. The circumstances in Baghdad are different, as remnants of the Baath [regime] are present in the Sunni areas, and there are Shiite Baathists. Thus, the law banning the Baath Party has no effect in the Kurdistan Region."

Other officials did not deny the presence of Baathists in the Kurdistan Region, and they justified the lack of interest in the issue with the current circumstances. Adalat Omr, the adviser to the General Authority of Kurdish areas outside the Kurdistan Region, told Al-Monitor, "The political crises and conflict in the Kurdistan Region, the foreign interference and the war on the Islamic State are the reasons behind the lukewarm position toward the presence of Baathists."

Yet, the Kurdish street is sharply divided over the presence and integration of Baathists in the Kurdistan Region. A human rights activist who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said, "Dozens of former advisers to the Light Regiments are present within the rank of the three key Kurdish political parties; some were even candidates in the last elections, while others have retired and are obtaining their pension from taxpayers." Even worse, the writer of songs supporting Saddam Hussein, including the famous song titled "Saddam Zera," retired with the rank of brigadier general on July 29, and he ended up enjoying his retirement and leading a prosperous life in the Kurdistan Region.

The activists did not forget the scandal where Tariq Ramadan al-Azzawi, a pilot accused of bombarding the city of Halabja with chemical weapons and who is still wanted by the Iraqi High Tribunal, was smuggled out of or released from his prison cell in Sulaimaniyah on Oct. 28, 2007, under mysterious circumstances.

Activist Najih Gulpy, a member of Chak, was reported as saying in an interview with the al-Ittihad al-Islami newspaper that he still has a letter by senior officials in the Kurdistan Region sent to the authorities of Denmark to release Nizar al-Khazraji, the former regime's army chief of staff, when he was arrested on charges of involvement in the Anfal massacres.

Contrary to Kurdish officials' point of view, Awara Hussein, a professor of genocide studies at Halabja University, said, "There are officials in the Kurdistan Region who were involved or collaborated with the Baathists in the 1980s genocide campaigns. Had the law to ban the Baath Party been implemented, many of them would be forced out."

In this regard, author and journalist Aref Qorbani said, "The authority in the Kurdistan Region is negligent in this regard, and Kurdish parties are protecting some of them due to partisan competition and to gain votes."

Writer and civil activist Ali Mahmoud told Al-Monitor, "Former Baathists are being used as a war machine in the internal battles and in the elections. The war over power is more important than the amassed skulls of the victims" for the Kurdish parties.

As the Kurdish street is preoccupied with political crises and divisions, officials in the KRG have no interest in giving attention to the law banning the Baath Party and to legally prosecute those who collaborated with it in its major crimes.

Editor's note: This article has been updated since its initial publication.

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