November 26, 2007

Sadr Objects To De-Baathification Reform

One of Congress' key reconciliation goals has finally getting attention from the Iraqi National Assembly -- and it's playing into the hands of a familiar nemesis. The parliamentary bloc loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr has resurrected itself in opposition to the reform of de-Baathification, asserting that they want to see justice, not mercy, for members of the Saddam Hussein regime:

A draft law that would ease restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, a measure seen by the Bush administration as crucial to national reconciliation, was presented in parliament on Sunday for the first time.

A powerful Shiite faction quickly objected to any moves to bring the Baathists back into government jobs, and a table-pounding argument erupted in the closed-door session, forcing postponement of the debate. ...

In the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, thousands of members of the Sunni-dominated Baath Party were dismissed from military and government jobs, retaliation for years of persecuting Shiites. The proposed law would allow them to return to certain positions and collect pensions; thousands have already managed to do so unofficially.

If thousands have returned unofficially and it causes no great problems, then why push through legislation that seems designed to act as a provocation? The Iraqis already had a quiet resolution to the harsh bar on lower-level Ba'athists, one that worked as long as no one noticed it. Congress' demand for formal reform may set the cause back -- and it may give Moqtada al-Sadr a political boost just when he appeared moribund.

The Kurds, who suffered at least as badly as the Shi'ites under Saddam, want mercy. The Kurdish representative to the debate noted that forgiveness is required for Iraq to unite, and the Kurds want the Sunnis integrated into Iraqi nationalism. The Sadrites want complete vengeance, and they want the Baathists barred from even the most meager of managerial positions in the government. They used an unfortunate example in their statement, "not even a hospital manager," as two Shi'ite government ministers face trial for using hospitals to abduct and murder hundreds of Sunnis in the sectarian strife of 2006.

The Sadrites do not run the Shi'ite majority in the National Assembly. However, they do have a significant bloc of those seats, and can make real trouble while the Shi'ites, Kurds, and Sunnis argue amongst each other. This is the moment when Nouri al-Maliki can act for unity rather than division, and put a stake through Sadr's political heart.


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