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Tilting at Windmills

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January 13, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

POLITICAL PROGRESS UPDATE....Today saw the first concrete sign of political reconciliation in Iraq: the passage of a law that eases the anti-Baathist order put in place by Jerry Bremer at the beginning of the American occupation in 2003. In theory, the new law should allow thousands of Sunni ex-members of Saddam's civil service to once again serve in government jobs.

Whether it works out that way remains to be seen. The Washington Post quotes Ali al-Lami, spokesman for the current de-Baathification commission, saying that the law will have just the opposite effect, making it easier to get rid of even more Sunnis:

The new measure could lead to a new purge of members of the current Iraqi government, Lami said, including about 7,000 officers in the Interior Ministry. Even influential Iraqi security force officials who used to be Baathists could face removal.

"The commander of the Baghdad security plan and his assistants, according to the new law, they should retire," he said.

The New York Times provides an even bigger estimate:

One Shiite politician, who spoke on condition that his name not be used, said the new law could forcibly retire up to 27,000 former Baathists, who would receive pensions.

On the other hand, the Times quotes other officials suggesting that the law would allow 13,000 to 31,000 former Baathists to regain their jobs. So who knows? Whether reconciliation is really in the offing depends on just how the law is enforced and who does the enforcing. Wait and see.

UPDATE: As Juan Cole points out, there's another reason to be dubious about this new law. It's the Sadrists who were originally opposed to easing de-Baathification and the Sunni parties who were for it, but when the final draft of the legislation got to parliament, the Sadrists voted for the law and the Sunnis didn't. That's a little hard to square with the law being a genuine attempt at reconciliation with the Sunnis.

Kevin Drum 12:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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We've waited, and we've seen. This thing isn't getting better in one human lifetime. It's a monumental fuckup that's going to keep on fucking up for decades.

Posted by: craigie on January 13, 2008 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

Points to Kevin for posting on this new law, even though this law refutes the argument that the surge has produced military success but not political success.

I would quibble with his assertion that this is the first concrete sign of political reconciliation. It may be the first significant national legislation. However, even without legislation, sharing of oil revenues among various groups has already been taking place.

For all I know, this new law may be counter-productive. But, it does seem like a double-whammy. Anti-war folks have been justifying their pessimism based on Iraq's failure to pass this law (as well as many other things). Now anti-war folks claim that passage of a law which they demanded may do more harm than good. You can't win.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 13, 2008 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmm...we have a central government run by Shiites. Who have become increasingly nervous after the Anbar awakening and American actions shifted money, guns, and power to the Sunni.

I hope it goes well. But if I were a bettin' man, I'd put my money on a Sunni purge.

Hell, even if Maliki wanted to reach out to the Shiites, there's no recognized nationwide leader for him to reach out to and offer a deal like "okay, you get x% of jobs in exchange for support, and peace." And it's not clear to me that Maliki could deliver the shiites even if he wanted to.

I just don't see the path here. They've segregated neighborhoods and put up concrete barriers, turning Baghdad into freaking Belfast. Nationwide, there's three main factions that have divided into sub-factions because their potentially unifying leaders have been systematically killed--either under Saddam or since the Americans came in. And they all hate the Americans but worry about what's going to happen when (if!) they leave.

It's like trying to, after the failure of the Articles of Confederation, write and execute the constitution--but Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison are dead, and there's a Russian Army occupying the nation and throwing its support to various factions depending on what best helps Russian domestic politics. Not impossible...but much, much, much more difficult.

Posted by: anonymous on January 13, 2008 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

Oh ex-liberal, I am still waiting for an answer to my question, and based on your refusal to answer, I can only presume that you are a draft dodging coward. (I have given you several chances. I can find the answer, and post it. Shall I?) One more chance:

How many deferments did you ask for and receive when it was your turn to fight in a war?

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on January 13, 2008 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

"even though this law refutes the argument that the surge has produced military success but not political success." Rule of law being what it is in Iraq and everything, the next 100-years of occupation should be a breeze.


This is a made for America press release. I say we pat them on the back and leave.

Posted by: Sparko on January 13, 2008 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

So who knows?

WTF good is that?

You're the self-described wonk - FIGURE IT OUT.

"Who knows" I can do by myself, thank you.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on January 13, 2008 at 2:07 AM | PERMALINK

Isle of Lucy: "How many deferments did you ask for and receive when it was your turn to fight in a war?"

None. I simply showed up at my draft board and reported for duty, while dressed as Bette Davis in All About Eve.

Posted by: ex-liberal, after he was administered a shot of sodium pentathol on January 13, 2008 at 3:18 AM | PERMALINK

[trollingt deleted]

Posted by: Al on January 13, 2008 at 3:18 AM | PERMALINK

Don't buy into these false narratives being spun by the military or the Bushies, to make it seem like everything is rosy in Iraq - IT AIN'T!

Read Juan Cole or other informed commentators - things are, at best, in a respite now, before the next cycle of violence begins. Buying off the Sunni militias only is a short-term solution, since they hate us almost as much as they hate Shiites.

It is amazing to me that Americans of both political parties acquiesce so easily to an open-ended occupation of a sovereign nation! They obviously have no understanding of America's history....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 13, 2008 at 6:27 AM | PERMALINK

I would defer to Juan Cole's judgment on this considering that it is the Sunnis who voted against the law and the Shiites who supported it. Don't trust the American media to get this one right. They will repeat the administration's talking points without looking further into the situation.

Posted by: Joanne McGahagan on January 13, 2008 at 8:02 AM | PERMALINK


"Anti-war folks have been justifying their pessimism..."

It's like this, dearie: It doesn't matter how this thing turns out in the "end," however many generations that might take.

The war was wrong to start with, and it's wrong now. It was an immoral war of aggression based on flat-out lies.

hancock

Posted by: hancock on January 13, 2008 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

hancock,

Exactly. All wars end. At some point, obviously, this one will too. Whether that end comes because the situation has stabilized enough to withdraw the troops (meeting whatever ad-hoc notion of 'victory' the US admin pulls out of its ass) or because the US is forced out by continued or increased violence really doesn't make a difference to anyone except those obsessed with the effect of the war on US politics.

For Iraqis, the verdict is in and has been in for some time. This war has been a complete disaster. It doesn't even matter if 5 years from now Iraq is a successful and peaceful democracy. (of course it is still far from that now, with daily violent deaths still far above the pre-war levels!) Yes, that would be good. But it wouldn't have come close to justifying the amount of blood that has been spilt. All other options, even doing nothing, would probably have produced better results.

The kind of bullshit you hear now from the war party is depressing. It shows that no one has learned anything. Whatever we do know is really basically cleaning up or own mess, the blood spill we ourselves caused. Yes, I hope that this cleaning goes successfully, but lets not let a good clean-up operation exonerate those who caused the spill in the first place.

Posted by: kokblok on January 13, 2008 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

I guess you don't read Juan Cole, who suggests that this law is worse for reconciliation than the Bremer law. MSM got it wrong again. Why am I not surprised.
http://www.juancole.com/2008/01/so-big-political-news-today-is-that.html

Posted by: eCAHNomics on January 13, 2008 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Do any of you really believe that these 27,000 sunnis are still living in Iraq?

Posted by: tin foil on January 13, 2008 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

All that comes out of Iraq today, even though accosted by the MSM, is good news: progress on the ex-Bathist law, the sharing of oil revenues amont the ethnicities, success of the joint US-Iraq bombing campaign of Baghdad, etc. Yet some things never change. Kevin is still here ringing his liberal hands and feigning despair over Iraq. Kevin is still stuck in 2005, it seams. But ya know? A funny thing about reality. You can only hide from it for so long.

Posted by: egbert on January 13, 2008 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Is there any way this justifies the hundreds of thousands of dead, the millions of displaced, and the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted?

Posted by: heavy on January 13, 2008 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

More good news from Iraq, according to Xinhua (Beijing, China)

Shiite, Sunni political blocs sign pact to maintain Iraq's unity
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-01/13/content_7414950.htm

Incidentally, although the New York Times article cited by Kevin includes the pessimistic estimate he quotes, it also includes an optimistic estimate "under the new law, only 3,500 former Baath Party members would be prevented from serving in the government, allowing more than 30,000 to hold government jobs."

Note that the pessimistic figure comes from an anonymous Iraqi politician, while the optimistic one comes from an identified source, Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Kurdish lawmaker.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 13, 2008 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

How many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be dead if George W. Bush hadn't declared war on the innocent people of Iraq? How much money could we have used to solve problems here at home if George W. Bush hadn't decided that it was fun to slaughter human beings half-way around the world?

At what point do sick fucks like "ex-liberal" stop masturbating to the sight of trivial progress in the wake of Bush's massive bloodbath?

Posted by: heavy on January 13, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

From Juan Cole:

"The passage of the new law will be hailed by the War party as a major achievement. But as usual they will misread what really happened.

If the new law was good for ex-Baathists, then the ex-Baathists in parliament will have voted for it and praised it, right? And likely the Sadrists (hard line anti-Baath Shiites) and Kurds would be a little upset.

Instead, parliament's version of this law was spearheaded by Sadrists, and the ex-Baathists in parliament criticized it."

Read the rest here:

http://www.juancole.com/

Sorry, I don't see the good news here. Yes, it is a de facto admission by the Bush administration that Bremer bungled, but it is five years too late.

Posted by: Joel on January 13, 2008 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

All is going fine. We will eventually be able to declare victory. All that matters is that the Republicans are vindicated.

In the meanwhile our economy is being sold to the SWFs (Sovereign Wealth Funds) of the oil exporting nations. Then it won't matter what we think, since we will be merely a subsidiary of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Posted by: bigTom on January 13, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Here's waht Fallah Hassan Shanshal, MP for Sadr City and head of parliament's de-Baathification committee, had to say about the new law:

"This law first and foremost will ensure that the Baath criminals will pay for their crimes and be held responsible for their actions," he told AFP.

What does Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, MP for the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), have to say about the new law?

"This is not a retribution against Baath party members," he said. "It is aimed at taking a legal stand against criminal individuals of the party. The ordinary members will enjoy their rights."

So the head of the de-Baathification committee in Parliament is really happy about this new law because it will allow him to find and prosecute more ex-Baathists and a Shi'ite spokesman defends the law as "not retribution" but a "stand against criminals."

So if these guys love it, how happy can the Baathists be about it?

Not very, I would imagine.

Posted by: trex on January 13, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Deleting Al; what a good idea.

Meanwhile, back on the topic, today's L.A. Times notes why many Baathists may not want their jobs back:

"Critics of the legislation . . . worry that any Baathists who seek jobs will be targeted by paramilitary groups.

""I wouldn't come back to my job because of this law," Sunni parliament member Saleh Mutlak said. "It's humiliating to the people. You have to condemn yourself, and then be investigated, and then you could be killed . . . after going to the committee."

Posted by: penalcolony on January 13, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

More good news from Iraq, according to Xinhua: Shiite, Sunni political blocs sign pact to maintain Iraq's unity

So you think it is good news that some Sunni and Shi'ite political blocs are banding together for a potential war over Kirkuk with the Kurds, ostensibly our most loyal ally in Iraq?

Unlike the final act of Pirates of Penzance, these sorts of uncommon alliances don't tend to end in song and dance.

Posted by: trex on January 13, 2008 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

It sounds like the law basically reads "OK, you're back in if you were a clerk; if you were anybody with influence, you have to retire now."

Doesn't sound like much of a walk on the Suni side of the street.

Posted by: Paul Maurice Martin on January 13, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

trex, I like your Pirates of Penzance allusion. I can just see Moqtada al-Sadr, with a patch over one eye, singing, "For I am a Shia king." Paul Bremer eoulf be perfect for the Modern Major General song, as he seemed to have expertise in almost subject, but knew little or nothing about things that were relevant to his position as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 13, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

I won't object to your censorship of Al if you would be even handed and delete the tired, tired, ad hominum chickenhawk postings. They do nothing to advance debate. They are the comments section equivalent of sticking fingers in your ears and saying lalalalalalala...

Posted by: mr insensitive on January 13, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal, I am still waiting...

How many deferments did you ask for and receive, callowly sending another to war in your place?

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on January 13, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter minion: "Those comments make me uncomfortable because they are too close to home. Would you delete them please?"

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on January 13, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

re: the first concrete sign of political reconciliation in Iraq

Not to beat a dead horse, but it bears repeating--

from Juan Cole:
The headlines are all saying that the law permits Baathists back into public life. It seems actually to demand that they be fired or retired on a pension, and any who are employed are excluded from sensitive ministries. . .

What are the ex-Baathists afraid of? Well, they are ex-Baathists in politics. So this objectionable passage seems to make it possible for the Sadrists, e.g., to keep people like Iyad Allawi from ever again enjoying high office. His secular, nationalist Iraqi National Dialogue party could easily just be branded too close to the original Baath Party and dissolved, and he could be excluded from high office by this new provision.
http://juancole.com/

THIS IS NOT A SIGN OF POLITICAL RECONCILIATION

Posted by: Don Bacon on January 13, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

"Today saw the first concrete sign of political reconciliation in Iraq..."

You write this in your lede, and then you go and completely disprove it in your post. What's with you post-partisan centrists? Do you always have to give the liars the benefit of the doubt?

Posted by: bob on January 13, 2008 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Read B's post at Moon of Alabama to understand that this is not such a good thing.

Posted by: R.L. on January 13, 2008 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, this is grand. Right-leaning spin in the headlines and great truncated story in our newspaper today from the Department of Happy Iraq News AKA the Associated Pests (AP). The article stated that the Iraqi Parliament with 275 memebers voted "...by a unanimous show of hands..." for the new law. Missing from the AP's report of hopeful political progress made possible by the glorious success of the Surge, was that actually only 145 or so voted for the law and the Sunni's boycotted the vote. With lies and distortions being spread like this, the right wing pounces on puff like this as proof things are on the mend.

Posted by: STEVEinSC on January 13, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

when the final draft of the legislation got to parliament, the Sadrists voted for the law and the Sunnis didn't. That's a little hard to square with the law being a genuine attempt at reconciliation with the Sunnis.

Are we sure that the Sunnis would recognize a law that was a genuine attempt at a reconciliation with them? Presumably any such law will entail some {perhaps perfunctory}apology by the Sunnis for the crimes that they committed as members of the Baathist government.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on January 13, 2008 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Yay! The surge is "working". Time to declare victory and get the f*ck outta there.

Posted by: CParis on January 13, 2008 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

Are we sure that the Sunnis would recognize a law that was a genuine attempt at a reconciliation with them?

Were you even awake when you posted this??? Read the thread. Carefully.

In other news, voters cheered when Congress passed a new law allowing statisticians back into public office and professional positions - provided they're acquitted of the criminal and civil charges against them that are likely to arise as a result of their application process.

Posted by: trex on January 13, 2008 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

CParis has a point. If we all stopped being GD negative obstructionists and got with the program then it would be Mission Accomplished and the US could leave Iraq. Kevin has shown us the way.

Posted by: Don Bacon on January 13, 2008 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

I found this video on Myspace that I always think about now when I read stuff about the war or listen to people talk about Iraq. Anyone who supports it should watch this video and it may change u're mind. Those against it, this video really reminds us WHY we shouldn't be over in Iraq! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10ej46Mhshg

Posted by: Patricia L. on January 14, 2008 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK
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