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NYT Says New Baathist Law Is Even Harsher

From the always helpful New York Times:

[AFP caption:] A policeman walks past a mural of a huge Iraqi flag in Baghdad. In a major boost for reconciliation in deeply divided Iraq, Shiite and Sunni MPs unanimously passed a law on Saturday allowing ex-officials of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to return to public life.

Ex-Baathists Get a Break. Or Do They?


Published: January 14, 2008

BAGHDAD — A day after the Iraqi Parliament passed legislation billed as the first significant political step forward in Iraq after months of deadlock, there were troubling questions — and troubling silences — about the measure’s actual effects.

The measure, known as the Justice and Accountability Law, is meant to open government jobs to former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein — the bureaucrats, engineers, city workers, teachers, soldiers and police officers who made the government work until they were barred from office after the American invasion in 2003.

But the legislation is at once confusing and controversial, a document riddled with loopholes and caveats to the point that some Sunni and Shiite officials say it could actually exclude more former Baathists than it lets back in, particularly in the crucial security ministries.

Under that interpretation, the law would be directly at odds with the American campaign to draft Sunni Arabs into so-called Awakening militias with the aim of integrating them into the police and military forces. That plan has been praised as a key to the sharp drop in violence over the past year and as being the most effective weapon against jihadi insurgents like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

There has been mostly silence from American officials, who have pushed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government hard over the past year to ease restrictions on former Baathists as a sign of political reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis. The two highest-ranking Americans in Baghdad, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. David H. Petraeus, were with President Bush in Kuwait on Saturday when the measure was passed. And a day afterward, officials were still putting off questions about it.

“We still have to go through it,” said a United States Embassy spokeswoman, Mirembe Nantongo. “We’re not going to comment at this time.”

Col. Steven Boylan, General Petraeus’s spokesman, said he had not seen a translation of the legislation and was uncertain whether his boss had.

According to a translated copy received by The New York Times, a whole new rung of former party members could be allowed back into government. Where the old de-Baathification law barred members of the top four of the party’s seven levels, the new measure would bar three, theoretically allowing as many as 30,000 people back in. And a vast majority of the ones still excluded, who held top national- and regional-level jobs, would become eligible for pensions if they had not been implicated in crime or corruption.

But interpretations of the measure’s actual effects varied widely among Iraqi officials. In general, Shiite politicians hailed it as an olive branch to Sunni Arabs. But some Sunnis say it is at best an incremental improvement over the old system, and at worst even harsher.

“This law includes some good articles, and it’s better than the last de-Baathification law because it gives pensions to third-level Baathists,” said Khalaf Aulian, a Sunni politician who opposed the legislation. “But I don’t like the law as a whole, because it will remain as a sword on the neck of the people.

“Maybe in the future they will use it to prevent anyone they like from keeping their job,” he said.

The most extreme interpretations of the measure’s effects actually came from Shiite officials. Some of them hailed it because it would ban members of even the lowest party levels from the most important ministries: justice, interior, defense, finance and foreign.

That would seem to preclude the government from keeping its promise to offer military and police jobs to the thousands of Sunni Arabs who have joined the Awakening groups.

Mr. Aulian, among other Sunni Arab politicians who opposed the measure, pointed out that the greatest risk could be that it would unravel successful efforts to draw more Sunnis away from the insurgency, perhaps toppling the country back into open sectarian conflict.

“Many Baathists hated the Baath Party, but they were part of it to have a job,” he said. “By this law, we will push them into the insurgency.”

But the proof of the measure will come in how it is applied. Even the old de-Baathification process did not achieve its goal of purging all of the former high-ranking party members from the government. The process lost track of many and avoided prosecuting others, like the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, out of political expediency.

Some officials pointed out that there was still room to interpret the legislation liberally, allowing more former Baathists in while still satisfying the pride of Shiites who have been dead-set against conciliation toward officials who worked for Mr. Hussein.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki, said the new bill was a result of compromises by both hard-line Shiites and Sunni Arabs.

One particular improvement, he said, was that de-Baathification cases would now be subject to judicial review, whereas the old de-Baathification committee’s decisions were final. And the Council of Ministers would have the right to make exceptions to the law in order to serve the public interest. “Before, we dealt with Baath Party members as a group,” he said. “Now, being a Baath Party member is not a crime by itself. If someone has committed a crime in the old regime, that accusation should be made in court. And all of the members can get a pension.” …

What a blatant exercise in disinformation this article is. Look at this core passage, which is really the whole point of the piece:

But the legislation is at once confusing and controversial, a document riddled with loopholes and caveats to the point that some Sunni and Shiite officials say it could actually exclude more former Baathists than it lets back in, particularly in the crucial security ministries.

Where are the quotes from the Sunni and Shiite officials who say it is worse than the old laws? What are their names?

The only point for this article is to make the claim that the new law not only doesn’t improve the situation for ex-Baathists, but makes things worse. But there isn’t one bit of evidence to indicate that this is the actual case.

But given the incredibly high stakes involved, shouldn’t the New York Times at least be expected to substantial its incredibly reckless assertions?

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, January 14th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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