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Jewish World Review April 27, 2004 / 6 Iyar, 5764

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mobray
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Re-Baathification allows Iraqi thugs back into power


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In announcing last week the first rollback of the de-Baathification in Iraq, the Bush administration portrayed it as a move to help bring skilled technocrats back into positions where their "talents" could be put to good use.

It was portrayed in the press as a move aimed at bringing back thousands of teachers and professors. But the shameless spin was a lethal cocktail of understatement and myth.

Looking at just the official line - bringing back those who are "innocent, capable people who were Baathists in name only," according to the Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman - the policy seems both sensible and reasonable.

What is actually happening, however, is anything but.

For starters, there are no teachers who were affected by de-Baathification. In the broader field of education, lots of people were ousted from government positions - but they were largely administrators, principals and chancellors.

To the extent any teachers were ousted, they were fired only if they were top Baath Party leaders. Consider the treatment given to some "teachers" under Saddam. Those who actively supported the regime made up to seven or eight times as much as real teachers - meaning the primary source or their income was not teaching, but loyalty. Loyalty to the Butcher of Baghdad.

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The unfunny punchline to the "teachers" joke is that thousands of teachers who did not actively report to Saddam on students and fellow teachers and who were newly rehired last year will now lose their jobs to make room for Baathist thugs, according to former Defense Department official Michael Rubin, who was in Iraq until recently.

It looks like re-Baathification is already on the slippery slope. In an April 14 news conference, U.N. envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi indicated he wanted to bring back top Baathists from a wide array of fields. In his opening remarks, he said:

"It is difficult to understand that thousands upon thousands of teachers, university professors, medical doctors and hospital staffs, engineers and other professionals who are sorely needed in the country have been dismissed within the de- Baathification process, and far too many of those cases have yet to be reviewed."

The significance of this statement cannot be understated. Not only is Brahimi destined for a much larger role after CPA administrator Paul Bremer leaves in the summer, but the U.N. envoy already enjoys direct access to President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In order to undo Bremer's crowning achievement - the only thing likely to memorialize his tenure in a truly positive light - Brahimi will have to act fast.

Baathist leaders came from the 15 percent of Iraqis who are Arab Sunnis, the only people who lived well under Saddam. And de-Baathification enjoys strong support among the 60 percent who are Arab Shiites (who live mostly in the south) and the 25 perccent who are Kurds (who live mostly in the north).

The 85 percent of Iraqis who were consigned to poverty and lived in constant fear are not terribly forgiving to the top tiers of Saddam's minions who helped make that tyranny possible. Once it's the Iraqi people and not the United States or the United Nations calling the shots, former Baathists are not likely to get favorable treatment.

Nor should they. Of the 2 million former Baath Party members, only 15,000-20,000 of them were purged by Bremer's order last spring. So the people who were members only to get a job were left unscathed.

Anyone in the top four levels of the Baath Party - the ones actually affected by Bremer's order - were guilty by definition. Saddam could not have maintained his reign of terror without their active efforts. Just because some of them may not have physically murdered people doesn't mean they don't all have blood on their hands.

Signs are not encouraging. The media barely blinked when it was announced that full colonels and even generals will be let back in to lead the new Iraqi military. Given the almost unparalleled atrocities committed by the Iraqi military over the years, how could any of its former leaders be considered "innocent"?

Asks one person who consults several Iraqi officials, "Do they think those mass graves filled themselves?"

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JWR contributor Joel Mowbray is the author of "Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America's Security". Comment by clicking here.

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