Could Iraq’s Baathists help in battle against Islamic State?

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The efforts to amend the Justice and Accountability Act, which uprooted Baath Party members from their government jobs, has stirred a debate among Shiites who strongly opposed these efforts.

Despite intentions and plans to resuscitate the dissolved Baath Party in political and public life in several ways, the attempts of the United States, the regional powers and the United Nations are facing obstacles. These include the division and bickering among the party’s wings, on the one hand, and the objections of the Shiite parties to the amendment of the Justice and Accountability Law, on the other hand, which uprooted the Baathists from government jobs and prevented their return to politics.

An official at the National Reconciliation Committee of the Iraqi Council of Ministers told Al-Hayat on condition of anonymity, “Following the ongoing negotiations with top leaders of the dissolved Baath Party’s wings, these leaders expressed their readiness to recognize the political process and respect the applicable constitution, including the articles preventing the party's return to political life, and to fight the Islamic State (IS).”

The official stated, “One of the prominent Baath leaders met with a third party in an Arab capital and informed him that the rules of procedure of the Baath Party allow the modification of the party’s categorization if necessary to continue to practice political action.”

The source revealed the existence of several issues that must be tackled to clear the name of this party, including dealing with judicial cases filed against a large group of its leaders and its members. He indicated that some proposed the issuance of a parliamentary or government decision to stop the prosecution against these [Baath] members while others proposed settling these cases through courts with a waiver by the litigating parties of the right to file a civil action in addition to the settlement of the de-Baathification cases.

He pointed out that “negotiations lasted more than a year, and one of the objectives was determining [who were] the members objecting to the political process for personal gains and representing only themselves and those who control their popular bases and use their influence on the ground in order to determine their capacity to recruit or neutralize IS suitable environments in several usurped Sunni cities.”

Regarding the conferences held in several capitals in 2015, he said, “These conferences provided a great service for those calling for the reconciliation from among Iraqis, Arabs or foreigners. Our friends told us that their impressions of the existence of an opportunist group whose inclination is far from the national interest has been consolidated.”

The source continued, “It appeared from the course of events of the recent Doha conference that disputes among the participants were significant to the point that one of our attending foreign friends told us that they (the participants) — throughout the days of the meeting — were divided into three parties, and all efforts including Qatar’s efforts failed in bringing them together in a single session. The situation reached the point of withdrawal of the Association of Muslim Scholars from the conference.” He continued, “Our friends had the impression that this conference was only held for businessmen.”

Within the scope of attempts by the US and regional parties to unite forces opposing the political process forces, led by the dissolved Baath Party, information confirmed that the Tanzania conference that followed the Doha Conference consecrated the division and alienation between the party’s wings. Abu Wissam al-Jashaami, a leader in Izzat al-Douri wing, told al-Hayat, “The party managed to keep away Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed (a Baathist wing leader known for refusing Douri policies) from the conference and to bring in a representative of the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order.”

A senior leader in the General Command of the Armed Forces-Iraqi Army, which is a Sunni armed faction affiliated with the wing of Al-Ahmad, told al-Hayat, “The military council that participated in the Doha conference, through the team of Lt. Gen. Sabah al-Ojaili and Maj. Gen. Najem Abdullah Zahwan al-Ojaili, represents the Association of Muslim Scholars headed by Muthana Harith al-Dhari and not the General Military Council.” He accused the team of Lt. Gen. Abdul-Jawad Zanon and the team of Lt. Gen. Sabah Alwan of having sold their country cheap. He also blamed al-Dhari and the Baath wing of Izzat al-Douri and Abdul Samad al-Gherairy (a senior leader with Douri) for being responsible for the destruction and occupation of the country and for turning it into a stronghold of Zionists and all Arabs who do not wish Iraq well. The leader said, “The al-Douri wing will never return to power.”

The group threatened “the Islamic Party, which it considered the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood and the oil sheikhs, notably Ali Hatem and Ali al-Dabbash, representing the Muslim army that only exists in Qatar. The majority of members pledged allegiance to IS and other groups.” The group said that “the former Iraqi army that fought the occupier will fight its agents represented by their meager entities.”

Mohammed Madlool, legal consultant for the Accountability and Justice Commission, told Al-Hayat that “there are ongoing talks aimed at settling the Baathist issue between the commission and the government.” He explained that “amendments have been made to the commission law that was submitted to the government for approval and referral to parliament.”

Some leaks indicate that the proposed amendments to the Accountability and Justice Law constitute a great opportunity for the government and the political forces to end this thorny issue.

These amendments include a proposal to change the text of Article 6, which stipulates taking severe actions against senior Baath members serving as state employees. According to the amendments, these would only have “their service ended if they are branch members and will be referred to retirement in compliance with the Service and Retirement Act in force. Meanwhile, all former division members in the Baath Party occupying special grades (director general, an equivalent or higher position) will be referred to retirement. The security personnel convicted of suppressing the Iraqi people under imperative judicial decisions shall be referred to retirement in compliance with the Service and Retirement Act.”

The new amendments deprive “volunteers in the Fedayeen Saddam apparatus of any pension rights with the exception of military soldiers and staff who were transferred to the said apparatus based on orders issued by a higher authority.”

These amendments allow “all staff members who do not occupy special grades in the Baath party to return to their departments and pursue their jobs or be referred to retirement depending on their will, in compliance with the Service and Retirement Act.” This was restricted to group members only.

According to the amendments, “division members shall be banned from keeping their jobs in the three presidential bodies, the Supreme Judicial Council, the ministries, the security agencies and the foreign and finance ministries.” Those who belong to these departments will be transferred to other departments, and no pension or grant shall be paid to those who joined the Baath Party after March 20, 2003.

The amendments revoke a clause stipulating that “the rights contained in the previous paragraphs shall not be granted to people who took part, when proven by the judiciary, in crimes against the Iraqi people, or people who enriched themselves at the expense of public money.”

In response to these amendments, Shiite forces have shown some objections as former MP Taha Dereh Saadi described in a statement to Al-Hayat the amendments as “a US reward granted to Baathists for the blood that they shed, be it directly or indirectly, on Iraqi territory before and after April 2004.” He believed that “the amendments will face great difficulty in parliament due to objections on the part of Shiite blocs that occupy more than two-thirds of the seats.”

It should be noted that a number of senior Baath Party leaders mentioned in the 55-member-list [of most-wanted Iraqis] are still at large. These include Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council and north region commander, Hani Abd al-Latif Tilfah — nephew of former Minister of Defense Adnan [Khayr Allah], Saddam [Hussein]’s cousin — and director of special forces.

Also wanted are his brother Rafik Abd al-Latif Tilfah, director of the general security service, Sayf al-Din Fulayyih Hassan, chief of staff of the Republican Guard forces, Tahir Jalil Habbush, director of the intelligence service, Rukan Razuki Abdul Ghafar Sulayman al-Majid, chief of tribal affairs in Saddam's office, Yahya Abdullah al-Aboudi, Baath Party chairman in the province of Basra, Nayif Shindakh Thamir, former head of the Baath Party in Salahuddin province, Rashid Taan Kazim, Baath Party chairman in Anbar province and Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, Baath Party chairman in Karbala.

Add to these a number of members against whom arrest warrants were issued on terrorism charges, including Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed, leader of the second-largest wing in the dissolved Baath Party.

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Found in: united states, shiite-sunni strife, saddam hussein, reconciliation, iraqi military, iraqi elections, iraqi domestic politics, baath party in iraq
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