May 28, 2004 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 176

The De-Ba'thification of Iraq - Pros and Cons

May 28, 2004 | By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli*
Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 176

On April 18, 2003, shortly after the start of the occupation of Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) issued order No. 1 to uproot the former ruling Ba'th Party from positions of authority. The order, commonly referred to as the de-Ba'thization of Iraq, was patterned after a similar program, known as the de-Nazificationof Germany, introduced by the allied forces upon the defeat of the Nazis in 1945.

In Iraq, de-Ba'thization has meant the dismissal of hundreds of thousands - of civil servants, teachers, army officers, and other bureaucrats or professionals who served the Saddam Hussein regime. The one enormous difference between de-Nazification and de-Ba'thization is that, unlike the members of the Nazi party who, after the unconditional surrender of Germany, were largely unarmed, the members of the Iraqi Ba'th party were armed and have used their weapons to render the orderly transition to democracy all but impossible. Therefore, it is not surprising that efforts are under way to co-opt some of the Ba'thists into the evolving system of government for the post-Saddam era.

The De-Ba'thization Process

Order No. 1 issued by the CPA on de-Ba'thization was subsequently incorporated into a law for the purging (ijtithath) of the Ba'th Party issued by Iraq's Governing Council (IGC) in January 2004. The law established the procedures by which senior members of the Ba'th Party and those implicated in criminal activities were to be identified and dismissed. The rules did not apply to Ba'th members who worked in the private sector. [1] A Committee for the Purging of the Ba'th was established by the IGC and chaired by Dr. Ahmad Al-Chalabi. Additionally, each ministry established a similar committee. The committees were responsible for evaluating approximately 30,000 Ba'th leaders at low, medium, and senior levels to determine the degree of their complicity in the crimes of the previous regime.

Iraqi officials like to emphasize that the law was meant to uproot the Ba'th as a political entity but not the Ba'thists - certainly not those who had been forced to join the party to protect their meager livelihood and had not been engaged in criminal activities. As might be expected, the hostility toward some members of the Ba'th Party was such that the committees for de-Ba'thization may have inadvertently sacrificed what, in jurisprudence, is referred to as due process. According to the Minister of Health, Dr. Khudeir Fadhil Abbas, the many errors which the de-Ba'thization committees have committed with regard to innocent individuals have led a number of ministers to call for the abolition of the committees. [2] Nevertheless, shortly after the law for the purging of the Ba'th Party was issued, hundreds of former senior officers in the army and the intelligence lined up outside a police station in the city of Mosul, one of the leading Sunni cities in Iraq and a hotbed of Ba'thism, to sign a document terminating their membership in the party and denouncing its ideology. [3]

Signs of Change

As security in Iraq has become increasingly problematic, the CPA has sought ways to reintegrate elements of the Ba'th party into the emerging army and ministries. According to Iraqi sources, the United Nations special envoy Al-Akhdhar Al-Ibrahimi raised with the civilian governor of Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the issue of purging thousands of teachers, university professors, doctors, and engineers from employment. Al-Ibrahimi is reported to have told Bremer that the purging decision was arbitrary and it would impede the transfer of authority to the Iraqis on June 30. The first sign of change of attitude toward the Ba'th Party members came in a statement by Dan Senor, the spokesman for the CPA, that while the Ba'th ideology is not suitable for the new Iraq, the process of investigation of those implicated in crimes is moving too slowly and needs to be reformed. [4]

A column in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat by Fuad Matar refers to the use of the Ba'th to restructure the balances of power. Matar suggests that the return of the Ba'th in a new configuration will serve the CPA in two ways: first, it will stem the rising Islamic tide in Iraq, particularly that which is stirred by the Shi'a cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr and, second, it will remind the Ba'th supporters that their party was not carried back to power by popular will. Matar also suggests that the return of the Ba'th will reflect a recognition by Ambassador Bremer that behind the resistance movement are "humiliated Ba'thist generals, angry young officers, displaced soldiers, and dispersed intellectuals, academicians, and specialists" and that their reinstating will deprive the resistance movement many of its leaders and active members. [5]

The Reintegration of Ba'thists

A major step toward reintegration of former Ba'thists into the government came in a statement by Ambassador Bremer that a large number of officers who served in Saddam's army will be recalled to rebuild the new Iraqi army. At the same time, Mr. Bremer announced the release of 2,500 prisoners following the review of their cases by a special review body appointed two months earlier. He further announced that thousands of teachers and hundreds of university professors who were removed from their posts will soon be able to return to work and that "thousands of others will soon begin to receive their pensions." [6] The reinstatement of the 10,000 Ba'thist teachers who were dismissed a year ago brings them an enormous economic bonus. Teachers' salaries under occupation are $300 per month, compared with about $5 per month under the Saddam regime. [7] This was followed by a decision by the Ministry of Electricity to return all former Ba'th members, who were purged earlier, to return to their jobs and participate in the reconstruction of their country. [8]

While the vast majority of the members of the IGC were opposed to the new policy, the CPA seemed to be determined to include some Ba'th personalities in the government configurations being put together in consultation with Al-Akhdhar Al-Ibrahimi. The new policy was also motivated by a desire to create a new balance between the rising tide of Shi'a religious orthodoxy and the secular elements of the previous regime, even if these elements were politically tainted. [9]

Meeting with Senior Army Officers

Shortly after Bremer's statement on the reintegration of old Iraqi army officers into the new army, the Iraqi minister of defense, Ali Abd Al-Amir Al-Alawi,met with more than fifty former senior army officers at the rank of brigadier-general or higher. They discussed the structure of the new army which will comprise three divisions of light infantry supported by 500 men in the air force and another 400 in the navy. The compulsory service will be abolished and the military will be volunteers. [10]

Support from Arab States

Two Middle East leaders added their voice for reintegrating former elements of the Ba'th into the evolving post-Saddam government of Iraq, including the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Al-Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Aal-Thani, a member of the ruling family who urged the U.S. administration to permit former Ba'th Party members to take part in the administration of the country. [11] King Abdallah of Jordan warned against civil war and urged dramatic steps to reconsider the policy of "de-Ba'thization." [12]

Opposition to the Ba'th Reintegration

The measures taken to reintegrate elements of the former Ba'thist regime did not go well, particularly with the Shi'a and Kurdish ethnic groups which suffered the most under the former regime. Leading the assault was the daily Al-Mu'tamar which belongs to the Iraqi National Congress, led by Dr. Ahmad Al-Chalabi. In an editorial by Akram Al-Hamdani,the newspaper reluctantly agreed to the exemption from punishment of those Ba'th party members who were forced in Saddam's time to join the party to keep their jobs, retain their food ration coupons, or avoid losing their electricity. Al-Mu'tamar's editorial wrath was heaped on the profiteers and on those responsible for the repressive instruments of the regime, forHalabja (where chemical weapons were used), and for the mass graves. [13]

Reciting the same catalog of crimes by the Ba'th Party, the Islamic Da'wa Party issued a public statement that the return of the Ba'thists has created doubts about the credibility of the slogans about democracy propagated by the occupation authorities, and leaves the Da'wa Party no choice except to oppose the re-Ba'thization decision in order to avoid returning to the circle of violence and counter violence. [14]

The return of Ba'thist officers to the army was the subject of what was reported as "a stormy meeting" between three unidentified leading Shi'a members of the IGC and Ambassador Bremer and General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of the coalition forces. The consternation of the members of the IGC was particularly great following the decision by the coalition forces to establish a special army brigade (the Fallujah Brigade) under the command of the Ba'thist Maj.-General Jassim Muhammad Saleh Al-Muhammadi, from the disbanded Republican Guard. To assuage their concerns, the coalition forces brought the following day retired Maj.-General Muhammad Latif as the commanding officer of the Fallujah Brigade. General Latif studied at a British military academy and spent years in Saddam's prison. [15] The Fallujah Brigade was assigned the responsibility of maintaining peace and order in Fallujah which, for weeks, was the center of armed clashes between elements of what was described as the resistance movement and the U.S. army. [16] For Al-Chalabi, this arrangement remains abhorrent. He was to complain that while the allies of the United States are not able to protect themselves, "the terrorists in Fallujah are enjoying themselves, sending one car bomb after another." [17]

There were also demonstrations in Baghdad organized by the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq,which is led by Abd Al-Aziz Al-Hakim, another member of the IGC. [18]

But exceeding all the opponents of re-Ba'thization is the young cleric rebel Muqtada Al-Sadr. In his Friday sermon in the Kufa Mosque, he said that the Americans are trying to restore the Ba'thists to govern the state. "I shall not allow this," he thundered, "and their end will come in the hands of the believers." The decision by the CPA to reinstate Ba'thist army officers suggests "American hatred of the Iraqi people and a reward to the Ba'thists for the gift they presented to the occupier, which is Iraq." [19]

Ironically, in response to the efforts to reintegrate its members, the Ba'th Party issued a statement confirming the success of the resistance in its confrontation with the coalition forces, promising "painful strikes" in the months to come to bring an end to the occupation of Iraq. [20]


Violence and acts of terrorism may cripple the process of transfer of power by June 30. Under the circumstances, reinstating elements of the Ba'th party into the army, the civil service, and the teaching professions seems to the CPA inevitable in terms of realpolitikin the hopethat it will preventIraq from plunging even further into the abyss of violence and dislocation.

* Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.

[1] Al-Mada (Baghdad), January 11, 2004.

[2] An interview with the Minister of Health in Al-Hayat (London), May 11, 2004.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), January 27, 2004.

[4] Al-Zaman (Iraq), April 23, 2004.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 1, 2004.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 24, 2004.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 17, 2004.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 20, 2004.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 25, 2004.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 30, 2004.

[11] Al-Zaman (Iraq), May 4, 2004.

[12] Al-Hayat (London), May 18. 2004. Also, a member of the IGC, Mrs. Son Kol Jabuk, a Turkeman with connections to Turkey, said that the "de-Ba'thification" has been a source of many problems. Al-Hayat (London), April 25, 2004.

[13] Al-Mu'tamar (Baghdad), April 28, 2004.

[14] Al-Bayan (Baghdad), April 29, 2004.

[15] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 2, 2004.

[16] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 2, 2004.

[17] Al-Mu'tamar (Iraq), May 19, 2004.

[18] Al-Zaman (Iraq), May 9, 2004.

[19] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 30, 2004.

[20] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 3, 2004.

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