Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Analysis: End of the Party

Regime change is not enough - a sustained programme of de-Ba'athification is essential to rid Iraq of the influence of the ruling party and its functionaries.
By Ali A.

Iraq turned into a gigantic prison camp under the Ba'ath party of Saddam Hussein. Yet this Saddamist state could not have evolved without the active - and willing - participation of tens of thousand of Iraqis.

In the post-Saddam period, therefore, the entire system of authoritarian, corrupt rule must be dismantled in a process of de-Ba'athification whose overarching objective must be to re-educate a people who have been subjected to a 30 years of hate, invective, bigotry, chauvinism, racism, militarism and vainglory. Nothing short of a formal and complete programme of de-Ba'athification will suffice to redress the regime's crimes and give some restitution to its victims. Purging a few individuals cannot be the end of it.

Yet the Iraqi opposition has only recently addressed, in an urgent way, the need to uproot the structure of Ba'athist control in Iraq. Wherever the issue was confronted, opinion tended to divide into three camps.

The first camp - broadly represented by an alliance of ex-Ba'athis, Arab nationalists, and recent military and civilian converts to the opposition's cause - has focused exclusively on Saddam and his immediate entourage. This camp says the Ba'ath itself has been corrupted and co-opted by the regime and argues that it would be foolish to alienate two million or so Ba'athists who could be an important prop to any new government.

It sees the Ba'ath as, at worst, a well-meaning group of modernizers betrayed by a megalomaniac and absolves the party and its institutions of any culpability in the regime's crimes. Those who are deemed blameworthy, they say, are unlikely to exceed 50 individuals. Assigning wider blame, it is argued, could unleash uncontrolled revenge killings that would blight the country's future.

This camp would seek to win the Ba'ath over with promises of an exclusive focus of retribution on Saddam and his immediate entourage. The party itself might be allowed to continue functioning.

The second camp does not deviate significantly from the premises of the first except to widen the scope of culpability to cover leading figures of the regime including key ministers, governors, military and security personnel and similar luminaries. It appears to believe that some form of public airing of injustices would be necessary and that the Ba'ath would need major modifications to its charter and objectives if it is to be allowed to function.

It would adopt a pragmatic approach of cooperating with rank-and-file Ba'athists after liberation, stressing the need to maintain a functioning administration. It is probable that no more than several hundred individuals would be targeted for indictment.

The third camp, which up to now has not articulated its position clearly, starts from the premise that the entire Ba'athist experience in Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster. It believes the Ba'ath is directly responsible for providing the ways and means by which the regime inflicted its catastrophes on the Iraqi people, their neighbours and the world community. It holds the Ba'ath responsible for providing the ideology and the machinery that turned Iraq into an aggressive, totalitarian and genocidal state and argues that democratisation is simply not possible unless the entire Ba'athist apparatus is uprooted.

The history of nations that have experienced similar traumas to Iraq's in dealing with the remnants of their totalitarian past has been varied. Although there is no single example that can be used as a model for Iraq, the nearest would be de-Nazification. Both Nazi Germany and Ba'athist Iraq were totalitarian states that ruled through pervasive security systems and engaged in external wars of aggression. De-Nazification was a programme fraught with problems and half-solutions and was ultimately abandoned, truncated, in the early 1950s. But there are nevertheless important lessons to be drawn from it.

A post-Saddam administration should legislate for a National De-Ba'athification Council that would have divisions covering provinces, cities and towns as well as key institutions like the educational and judicial systems, government-owned economic and commercial enterprises, the oil industry and so on.

The council would have a number of key objectives: identifying and classifying the culprits; assigning degrees of culpability with appropriate legal and administrative measures; removing such persons from any responsible political, administrative, educational or juridical body; reinstating those who were dismissed for political reasons during the Ba'athist rule; creating safeguards to identify and block the appointment or promotion of any figure with Ba'athist sympathies and loyalties; ensuring that Ba'athist ideology does not seep into the public realm in any guise and that key state institutions are protected constitutionally from Ba'athist encroachments.

The Ba'ath has an estimated base of two million people. About 50,000 people are cadres who function as leaders, motivators, teachers and watchdogs. The party is divided hierarchically in a cellular structure - from halaqas, or neighbourhood cells of 2 to 7 people, to firqas in factories and offices, schools and urban quarters; shubas in city districts, large towns and rural districts; fir'as at the provincial level; and the Regional Command, which unites all fir'as and reports to an inactive, pan-Arab, National Command.

Under de-Ba'athification rules, all Regional Command members, branches and shuba members should be automatically disbarred. Every Ba'ath party cadre or supporter should be asked to complete a detailed questionnaire, corroborated by at least two witnesses, about his activities under the Ba'ath. He should then submit to a detailed interview which would classify him according to degrees of culpability defined following Allied classification of Nazi party members - from holding office in the Ba'ath and related organisations to giving substantial moral, political or material support to the party, its officials or leaders.

Prominent members of the professional and commercial classes who benefited from the Ba'ath party and its programmes, directly and indirectly, should also be "de-Ba'athified".

Those deemed culpable of supporting Ba'athism in whatever guise would be classified into four classes. Class I offenders, who committed or approved of crimes directly, would be stripped of office and indicted for trial. Class II, who aided or abetted crimes, would be stripped of office but tried on lesser offences.

Class III, who knew of crimes which they could have prevented or who benefited from crimes, would be suspended from office and obliged to undertake remedial educational programmes as a prelude to possible reinstatement. Against Class IV offenders, who were merely followers, no charges would be raised.

Related to de-Ba'athification is the treatment of the assets and properties amassed by the party, its stalwarts and agents both domestically and abroad. During the dying days of the Soviet empire, huge amounts of wealth were spirited away and contributed, significantly, to the criminalization of politics in the immediate post-Soviet era. The identifiable assets of the Ba'ath should be sequestered at once and a rigorous policy pursued to recover illicitly-gained wealth - or at least to neutralise its pernicious effects.

To this end, a National Audit and Asset Recovery office would make a full inventory of the assets of the Ba'ath and its henchmen, whether held directly or through nominees; trace the theft of assets throughout Saddam's rule and prepare legal cases to retrieve them; ensure that no tainted funding reaches parliamentary candidates, political parties or the media; identify institutions and countries that would be black-listed for harbouring the money of these criminals and take retaliatory measures.

Estimates of the funds that have been stolen by the Ba'ath party and its leaders amount to tens of billions of dollars. This wealth has been amassed over decades of unaccountable and untrammelled access to public funds by Ba'athists who have had the best advice from "respectable" intermediaries - banks, international lawyers and accountants - well-versed in camouflage, subterfuge and money-laundering. A great part of the stolen funds may not be recoverable. But the experience of countries like Nigeria and the Philippines indicates that a substantial amount can be recovered if the process is legally-founded, persistent and methodical.

Ali A. Allawi is an Iraqi economist and investment banker in London.