The newly-elected Shi’ite leaders of Iraq want to clean out the ex-Ba’athists who have returned to work in the new Iraqi police, setting up what could be a major division within the forces that Iyad Allawi has slowly rebuilt to credibility:
Members of the Shi’ite coalition that won Iraq’s elections are demanding that the new government, when it is formed, cleanse the security services of terrorist informers and Saddam sympathizers as its first order of business.
Pressure for a purge of the new services is coming from within the ranks of the United Iraqi Alliance, many of whose mainly Shi’ite members complain of being harassed by Sunni officers much as they were persecuted under deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.
“There’s a certain grass-roots feeling on the Shia side, a concern at what they claim to be a sort of re-Ba’athification process in the security ministries,” said a senior British diplomat, who spoke to a small group of reporters on the condition of anonymity. “They feel that something needs to be done about it.”
The Shi’a have a point, although they may carry it too far. Having true Saddamite sympathizers in the police and security forces will eventually undermine the confidence that Iraqis must place in them for security to improve. The significant numbers of Saddam’s henchmen who continue to operate outside the law and target civilians and security personnel make these people suspicious; to whom is their loyalty given? No one can blame the Shi’a for being nervous about that or wanting to minimize the risk.
At the same time, as long as ex-Ba’athists remain outside the system, they will remain a threat. If de-Ba’athification can be done properly, having men with experience in security that have loyalty to the new democratic government will allow for more efficient progress in creating a secure and stable Iraq. It also shows that the Sunni do not need to consider themselves pariahs, but partners in a multilateral representative government. Simply flushing out everyone who ever had a connection to the old regime may simply convince the dead-enders that they have no future in either direction and take their frustration out on everyone.
The US is right to caution the new government about acting precipitously. The best solution for the moment is to get as many Sunni participating in the democratic process and give them hope that their voices will be heard.