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

Baathists' Return Arouses Fears

The Coalition Provisional Authority’s U-turn on former Baath party members is causing anger and anxiety.
By Dhiya Rasan

Slogans covering the walls at west Baghdad's al-Karkh education department tell of the anger that some people still feel about Iraq’s former ruling party, the Baath.

"Bloodshed and murder are the Baath's culture," says one. "Baathism means corruption," says another. "Re-Baathification is a coup d'etat against freedom," cries a third.

At the same time, the kiosks that sell job application forms in the streets outside the directorate of education have stocked up on newly-issued documents that permit former Baathists to get their jobs back.

For more than a year, the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority, CPA, led a campaign to purge Baathists from positions of power – only to reverse its position last month and allow them to return, pending appeals.

A fourth slogan daubed on the walls blames US President George Bush for the change of heart, and predicts trouble ahead, "Bush's mistake will distort the thoughts of our children."

The CPA’s decision has been greeted with bitterness, especially from people who were barred from working under the Baathist regime for political reasons.

Mohammed Hameed, 34, is one of them. Even though his work in the directorate merely entails serving tea and coffee, his colleagues call him "Sir" out of respect for his qualifications.

Hameed qualified for medical school, but his studies were interrupted by his arrest as a suspected activist of the Islamic Dawa party, banned under Saddam Hussein. Although Hameed claims he never joined Dawa, he was tortured, and then fled Iraq before completing his education.

Hameed’s degree in English, earned in Lebanon after his exile, would ordinarily be enough to land him a teaching job.

Anticipating better times, Hameed packed his suitcase to return home last year, the day after the fall of Saddam’s regime. "I thought that Iraq had been liberated from this villainous Baath regime, and I was very grateful to America,” he told IWPR.

But his feelings have now changed.

“When the Coalition Provisional Authority announced the need to bring Baathists back, I knew that a black coup d'etat had happened, and that the Baath would return again," he said.

Like many of his colleagues, Hameed fears that former members of the party will become the teachers of the nation’s young people. "Baathists will return to contaminate students and others," he said.

But the directorate’s manager, who refused to give his name, sees other reasons behind such statements, "This is the heart of the matter: they all fear that the returning Baathists will take the position assigned to them, or take the posts they had before they were fired by the old regime.”

The manager confirms there are not enough teaching jobs for everybody, noting that some 80,000 educational staff who lost their jobs under Saddam are now competing with another 12,000 who lost their jobs under the CPA’s de-Baathification program.

The manager also says the odds are worsened by an untold number of new university graduates seeking for a limited number of available jobs.

He favours giving the Baathists back their jobs. "Forgiveness is an obligation for Muslims," he said. "Those who were fired from their jobs have families, too. So where should they go?"

Ahmed Mutasher, who taught history and geography at west Baghdad's al-Hariri school, is one of those party members who is seeking his job back.

"I joined the Baath party because it was the only party in the country. I am not an intelligence officer, and I am not a torturer," he said.

That may be true, but Samia Hashem, an educational supervisor at the directorate, still thinks Baathists should not be allowed back into teaching, especially with so few jobs to go around.

"I suggest a compromise. Retire them and give the posts to younger teachers, or to those fired for political reasons who have not reached retirement age," she said.

Dhiya Rasan is a trainee journalist with IWPR in Baghdad.

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