Iraq's Baathist Crackdown Lacks Legal Basis22/11/2011 17:16
by Joel Wing*
Iraq has recently seen a wave of arrests and firings of alleged former Baathists. This started in October 2011 when the Ministry of Higher Education went after members of Tikrit University in Salahaddin. That was quickly followed by a wave of detentions across six of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. While all of this was going on, the Accountability and Justice Commission that replaced the old deBaathification Commission had suspended its work. That adds an odd twist to a crackdown on former regime members when the main anti-Baathist agency was not involved.
The Baathist clamp down began with the Ministry of Higher Education. Back in July, Higher Education Minister Ali al-Adeeb said that the universities needed to be deBaathified. He would later claim that was because his predecessor Abdul Dhiyab al-Ugayli of the Iraqi Islamic Party was a Baathist, and had promoted the outlawed party while in office. Based upon that claim, Adeeb fired 140 employees and professors at the University of Tikrit in Salahaddin in October. The Minister claimed he was following the Accountability and Justice Commission. Adeeb said those released were members of Saddam’s intelligence agencies, and that he received their names from the president of the University. That story was contradicted by two facts. First, the Tikrit University president ended up resigning in protest. Second, as part of the power sharing agreement that created the current government the parties agreed to suspend the activities of the Accountability and Justice Commission until new members were named. Two letters were sent to the Commission telling it to cease its activities by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and in June the premier forced out the Commission head Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress. The month before, its director Ali al-Lami was assassinated. Maliki and a member of the White Iraqiya bloc in parliament also said that a new Accountability and Justice Commission had to be elected, and that they would conduct an investigation before anyone at Tikrit University was dismissed. All together the Higher Education Minister didn’t seem to have much ground to stand on. With the Accountability and Justice Commission having stopped its work it could not have directed or okayed Adeeb’s actions. It also seems hard to believe that the president of Tikrit University would willingly turn over his own people to be fired. Rather, it seems like Adeeb was following his own agenda. In the past, going after former regime members has always gone over well with Shiites, and the Minister could be playing politics as has often happened with deBaathification.
The same problem arose with the arrests of alleged Baathists by the Interior Minister. When the security forces began detaining people in the middle of October, the authorities noted what rank they had in the Baath Party. By early November, the government announced that 655 former Baathists had been picked up. The 2008 Accountability and Justice Law however, only bans the top three levels of Baathists from holding government jobs. It does not say that they can be detained. Again, the justification for the crackdown did not seem to hold water. Iraqi law does not allow the arrest of individuals for simply being a former regime member. Maliki is also the acting Interior Minister, so the premier may be manipulating these arrests as well, just as Higher Education Minister Adeeb appears to be doing.
The firings at Tikrit University and the subsequent arrests show the thin legal ground that the Iraqi government operates on. Neither official explanation by Higher Education Minister Adeeb or the Interior Ministry appear to adhere to the Accountability and Justice Law. They are also not following decisions made by the Accountability and Justice Commission, which is currently defunct. Rather, Adeeb and Maliki look to be the latest example of Shiite politicians manipulating allegations about the Baath Party for their own political gain. This has been the history of deBaathification since its inception in 2003. Iraqi officials have continuously used it to get rid of their opponents, and to rally the Shiite public, which still fears the return of Saddam’s henchmen. These crackdowns are rarely legal, but that has not stopped the government. That’s because Iraq is not a country governed by the rule of law. The country’s institutions are still weak and divided, which opens the door to abuses like the current crackdown. With no real checks and balances, politicians will continue to return to this theme whenever it suits them.
*With an MA in International Relations, Joel Wing has been researching and writing about Iraq since 2002. His acclaimed blog, Musings on Iraq, is currently listed by the New York Times and the World Politics Review. In addition, Mr. Wing’s work has been cited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Guardian and the Washington Independent.