Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Iraqi de-Bathification Purges Continue to Intensify

With the Iraqi elections only a week away, the de-Bathification measures that already banned over 600 candidates have been intensifying of late. Though there has been some decent coverage of these purges in the press the last month or so, the latest micro-level de-Bathification developments and their negative impact on the rule of law in Iraq haven't gained much traction yet in US media outlets.

The issue of the de-Bathification purges has dominated the public discourse throughout the campaign period. The largest Shi'i coalition - the Iraqi National Alliance - has been strongly pushing the issue, and not just through the de-Bathification committee headed by Ahmad Chalabi and Ali al-Lami. Though the de-Bathification committee announced Thursday that it was purging 376 officers (20 of whom are high-ranking) from the Iraqi army and police, the purging of civil servants with alleged Bathist ties has now gained substantial traction throughout the Shia-majority provinces of Iraq's south. The provincial governments that are headed by Dawa and ISCI have been following the lead of Chalabi and Lami in Baghdad and have begun implementing micro-level purges throughout their respective provinces.

Though Maliki is legally able to overrule the decisions of the de-Bathification committee, he cannot afford to do so when the national elections are only a week away. In this respect, the Iraqi National Alliance (for whom Chalabi and Lami are candidates) has politically boxed Maliki into a corner. Maliki can't overrule their decision lest he risks looking sympathetic to these alleged Bathists. That will certainly not win him many votes among his core constituency. So in response to the de-Bathification blitz being pushed by Chalabi and the INA, Maliki and his Dawa party have actually been organizing demonstrations in favor of the purges, and Dawa-dominated provincial councils have been pushing through micro-level purges themselves. So much for the 'Rule of Law'.

It is clearly evident that not only have these purges been used to weaken the secular/nationalist current in Iraqi politics at a critical time before the election, they are being implemented at the security and micro-levels of Iraqi society to fundamentally alter the balance of power in favor of the Shia religious parties (most notably ISCI). These parties that comprise the INA and who are close allies of the Iranians don't really have anything substantive to run on in these elections. They got hammered in the provincial elections of 2009, and their continued inability to provide reliable services to their constituencies hasn't made them any more popular. Hence their emphasis on identity politics and their persistance in pushing the Bathist witch hunts.

Since there seems to be no Iraqi institutional capacity for resisting the de-Bathification board's legally dubious high-handedness, how far will these purges go? So far the international community's response has been fairly muted. The US has made a little noise over it, but clearly not enough to have any effect on Chalabi and Lami. US Ambassador Christopher Hill spoke about the controversy at a press briefing in Washington last week and sounded worryingly optimistic, claiming that he thinks "we've gotten through that issue." The fact of the matter is that the issue is not through with; it is most likely far from over. The recent intensification of the purges demonstrate that. And just because the issue may not generate much violence (most of the disenfranchised groups don't have the capacity to take on the Iraqi security forces) doesn't mean the problem isn't important. A functional Iraq depends on the rule of law and capable institutions. The last six weeks have revealed just how non-existent these two principles are in the current state of affairs in Iraq.

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