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Comment: Militants May Exploit Ba'ath Despair

Unless sacked Ba'athists with no links to Saddam's crimes are found work, they could fall into the hands of the extremists.
By Adnan K. Karim

One thing everyone in Iraq would agree on is that security, and the stability that would follow, is the most urgent need in the country today.

 

Only when Iraqis feel safe and secure can the objectives and promises made by the coalition and the main Iraqi political and religious parties and movements be achieved.

 

The deployment of additional troops and international peacekeepers, and the increasing number of raids, arrests and searches have not given Iraqi citizens a feeling of security. On the contrary, it has been counterproductive.

 

The majority of Iraqis feel that only their own national army is capable of filling the obvious security vacuum and keeping peace on the streets.

 

But shortly after the fall of Baghdad, the US dissolved the army, and the coalition civil administration, assisted by a number of Iraqi political parties and movements, issued a series of hasty decrees.

 

The ministries of information and defence, the Iraqi Republican Guard, the security and intelligence apparatuses, and the ruling Ba'ath party were all abolished.

 

The aim of these decrees was to remove Saddam Hussein cronies from their posts and cleanse society of them. As a result, an estimated half a million people were plunged into unemployment.

 

Considering that the average Iraqi family consists of five members, almost two million Iraqis, the vast majority of whom are not criminals, have been directly and adversely affected by the decrees.

 

Under the old regime, one had to be a member of the Ba'ath party to be accepted at university. To climb the employment ladder in any field, one had to first climb the party ladder. Many became Ba'ath members for very practical reasons: for survival.

 

About one tenth of the 500,000 left with out jobs by the decrees were leading political and military figures, ministers, decision making intelligence service officials or members and friends of the deposed president's family.

 

They enjoyed perks and privileges, gifts and exorbitant salaries, and were the ones dedicated to the service of the old regime and the implementation of its policies.

 

It is important to make a distinction between this category and the hundreds of thousands of middle- to low-ranking party members with little connection with or involvement in the former regime's crimes.

 

The decision to dissolve regime support structures might have been welcomed by the public if the numbers included were reasonable and if all of them truly deserved to be removed from their posts.

 

The broad sweep of the decrees has created a problem that could have a catastrophic impact on the security situation if it remains unresolved.

 

Most of those laid off come from cities that have an Arab Sunni majority like Diyala, Ramadi and Tikrit. This area, the so-called Sunni triangle, contains the most active extremist movements. It also has the highest rate of attacks against coalition forces.

 

Their concentration in the Sunni triangle, their family connections, and their previous working relationship with each other, coupled with economic hardship, means these men can easily be lured with offers of money into joining groups of saboteurs.

 

It is now widely known that some extremist groups are offering 1,000 US dollars to carry out an attack. As a result, many of the sacked middle- and low-ranking Ba'ath party members may be lost to the enemy.

 

The starting point for authorities would be to pay compensatory salaries to people who lost jobs but had no connection with the regime. Enough time has passed since the fall of Baghdad to have identified and filtered out those who committed crimes. They should be held and put on trial.

 

The rest should be asked to provide their personal details, qualifications and skills, and to sign a declaration severing all ties with Ba'ath party and the abolished institutions.

 

In addition to simple economic benefits, employing those who have professional and technical skills in government departments would give them a sense of responsibility and feeling of involvement in rebuilding their country. Less skilled workers could be recruited into the new Iraqi army or the police force.

 

Only in providing these 450,000 people with meaningful employment can authorities hope to stave off a potential descent into anarchy.

 

This process must begin by recognition of the difference between those who were part of the regime and assisted in its crimes, and those who were forced to go along in order to survive.

 

Adnan K Karim is a former Rear Admiral in the Iraqi Navy.

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