Maliki Announces Push on Mosul; ICTJ says Iraq Debaathification law Makes things Worse

According to al-Hayat in Arabic, Iraqi preachers on Friday expressed outrage over the Israeli siege of Gaza and condemned Arab governments for doing nothing about it. They also condemned the bombing in Mosul and the doomsday group, Supporters of the Mahdi, in the Shiite south.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Iraqi parliament still has not passed a budget. One of the hangups is that the Kurds are demanding 17% of the government expenditures (and are also demanding that the federal state pay for their state militia, the Peshmerga). The Arab delegates to parliament are not willing to give the Kurds such a high proportion of government monies.

Al-Hayat also says that the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party is definitely coming back into the Nuri al-Maliki government.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced a major Iraqi military operation in the north, in the vicinity of Mosul, on Friday. He said that the Iraqi army would make a ‘final push’ against “al-Qaeda.”

But al-Maliki’s security forces are largely Shiite, and recruited from sectarian Shiite movements, at that. Mosul is 80% Sunni Arab. So the likelihood that an Iraqi army crackdown in the region will be viewed by local Sunnis as a good thing strikes me as low. Moreover, a lot of the resistance to the government in Mosul comes from cells of the Baath Party, and dismissing Sunni politics as “al-Qaeda” is inaccurate and likely to lead to poor political maneuvering. Without popular support, the federal government remains weak.

Mark Perry reports that the US officer corps had wanted to reach out to the Sunni Arab tribes of al-Anbar years ago but was consistently blocked by the civilian politicians of the White House (presumably because they had thrown in with the Shiite fundamentalist parties and Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress). Was the length of the struggle with the “insurgency” an artifact of Don Rumsfeld’s, Paul Wolfowitz’s and Condi Rice’s various and contradictory policies, which had the effect of over-ruling the good sense of our smart officers on the ground? Par II is here. Perry argues that no one among the officers can figure out who is in charge of policy. What I hear is that the top officers in Iraq feel they have done everything they can, but that policy is adrift and BushCo won’t make any tough decisions about where to go from here. And, the officers don’t make policy, they mainly do tactics in the service of a strategy that should be coming from the White House. It isn’t.

Sounds to me like the Exxon Valdez, with Bush playing the skipper and Iraq playing the supertanker.

On the political front, I fear this national reconciliation thing is not working out very well in Iraq.

The International Center for Transitional Justice which specializes in helping countries come to terms with past human rights abuses, has issued a detail report (available here in pdf format) that brings sharply into question the usefulness to national reconciliation of the new law on debaathification passed by the Iraqi parliament. They translated the law here (again, pdf). ICTJ concludes:

‘ 1. The new law is not the major change that reformers had pushed for. Instead, the law preserves the previous De-Ba’athification system and simply renames Iraq’s controversial De-Ba’athification Commission. This is a major change from the draft law that went to parliament in December;

2. Reinstatement rights, pension rights, and the appeals system have been strengthened for many thousands of people, at least on paper. These are welcome improvements – but do not change the fact that the system is still based on guilt by association, not on individual deeds;

3. The new Commission has stronger powers than previously and its reach will now extend across different organizations, including the President’s Office, Prime Minister’s Office, and the Supreme Judicial Council. Exemptions will be harder to come by. These changes will likely cause political backlash and also severely violates the independence of Iraq’s judiciary. These provisions are in addition to the new language that forces all former employees of Ba’ath era security forces to retire, which is already complicating the law’s political reception;

4. The new Commission will now have the power to investigate complaints of corruption or criminal activity by former Ba’athists and gather evidence for judicial action. This could be a welcome move towards greater accountability-or a new mechanism to conduct public and high profile witch hunts. Much depends on the Commission’s new leadership and the new rules they must establish for the Commission’s work. ‘

As I pointed out when the law was first passed by parliament, I found it suspicious that some powerful Sadrists were behind it and enthusiastic about it, but that ex-Baathists like Iyad Allawi and Salih Mutlak came out against the legislation. If it were really good for ex-Baathists, you’d have expected it to be the other way around. Much will depend on how it is implemented, but the ex-Baathists apparently fear that it will be used to shut them out of politics altogether.

Parliament designed a new flag to replace that of Saddam Hussein, removing the three stars symbolic of Baath principles and changing Saddam’s handwriting to an ancient block script (it still say God is Most Great). Even these minor changes have angered many Sunni Arabs, and apparently it will not be flown in al-Anbar Province. Likewise the Kurds don’t like it, because it is too much like the old flag that flew in the Baath period, when Kurds were subjected to gas attacks.

As for those 18 benchmarks of political progress that Congress wanted to see before they went on funding Bush’s boondoggle in Iraq, the Center for American Progress doesn’t find that much has been accomplished on those, either.