People Fear Persecutors' Return

The decision to allow Baathists back into government stirs bad memories in Kurdistan.

People Fear Persecutors' Return

The decision to allow Baathists back into government stirs bad memories in Kurdistan.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Yosif Ahmed Qadir recently returned to his home in Kirkuk, 14 years after Baath party security forces forced him and his family out, along with hundreds of thousands of other Kurds and Turkoman.


Qadir thought his family was beginning a new life. But they now fear they will re-live the ethnic cleansing they experienced under the former regime.


Like many others, he fears the recent decision of the Coalition Provisional Authority, CPA, to allow some Baath party members to return to military and government service.


He thinks the decision could lead to persecution and expulsion of his family all over again.


The Baathists might "try to revert to a situation like that under Saddam", said Qadir. If they return to their jobs in government, they will not acknowledge that the situation has changed in Kirkuk and the rest of Iraq, he says.


Qadir and his two younger sisters and parents now live in the predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Rahimawa, where he has a good civil service job in the governor's office.


The family worries about their future security if their persecutors return to positions of power, and their fears are shared by others in the regioon.


"When I heard the news," said Hussein Hussein Jwamer, a Turkoman taxi driver from Kirkuk, "I grew afraid and thought everything may become like it was before."


The oil-rich city of Kirkuk was home to many Kurds and Turkoman who were viewed as a security threat to the predominantly Arab government headed by Saddam Hussein. The city’s ethnic composition was altered by a campaign of "Arabisation" that forced hundreds of thousands out of the city.


But since the fall of the old regime, many people like Qadir have moved back to Kirkuk and have tried to start life anew.


Order No. 1, signed in May 2003 by US top administrator Paul Bremer, outlawed the Baath party and barred high level party members from government employment. People in top military and government positions and in state-run institutions such as universities and hospitals were to be investigated before being allowed to return to work.


Some 30,000 civil servants were purged from government jobs, and another 30,000 were expected to be excluded by the end of the process, according to the De-Baathification Commission that was set up to oversee the process.


But the recent softening of the policy on de-Baathification may stop or even reverse this purge.


"This is like allowing Nazis into the German government immediately after World War II," Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi is reported to have said.


Other politicians are more supportive, citing the desperate shortage of experienced and skilled government administrators.


Another argument is that the unstable security situation is in part due to de-Baathification, which put hundreds of thousands of employees out of work at the stroke of Bremer's pen.


Many of these unemployed Baathists were recruited by the insurgents or joined forces with foreign militants.


"If the decision leads to a stable security situation, it's a good one," says Fahmi Faraj, 32, a member of the Kirkuk branch of the Kurdish Islamic League.


But many Kirkuk residents, who often suffered harassment, violence and expulsion at the hands of the very people who may come back into government positions, have serious reservations.


"It looks as if Saddam has lost his head but his body remains," observed Aqil Majeed, 28, an Arab employed in office of Kirkuk university’s president.


Police department jobs were once restricted to Baath party members, but in the present changed climate, 23, a Kurdish police officer in Kirkuk, is not ready to work alongside ex-Baathists.


"I will quit my job as a policeman if the decision is implemented," he said.


In addition, many Baathist teachers were purged from the educational system.


Bakir Zamn Mustafa, 49, headmaster and teacher at Mahwy primary school in Qadisiya quarter of Kirkuk, thinks the return of Baathist teachers to his school "is very dangerous". He fears that Baathist teachers and headmasters will disseminate their political ideology to impressionable children.


Mustafa says he will quit his job if the school is “re-Baathified”.


Others say government offices and colleges have been hit by the removal of highly qualified and skilled staff. Abdul Latif, assistant dean of the College of Law in the University of Kirkuk, says his college has suffered from the loss of some Baathist teachers, who he says were good people and good teachers.


The situation is similar in government departments where many experienced Baathist employees have been dismissed. An Arab employee in the Kirkuk municipality, Immad Mahmood, 36, believes government offices are short on skills, experience and expertise.


He and Latif both say many of the Baathists dismissed from their jobs were not criminals.


Muhammed Agha Oghlu, 27, a member of the Iraqi Turkoman Student and Youth Association, agrees that Baathists could be allowed back, with the proviso that they should be investigated beforehand to determine whether they are guilty of any crimes.


"The courts should play an important role in the implementation of this decision," said Agha Oghlu.


Ahmed Askari, 51, a Kurdish member of the Kirkuk governorate council, thinks the Iraqi Governing Council and the Iraqi people should have been consulted before the CPA decided to allow the Baathists back.


Askari hopes that rehiring some Baathists in the military or government will help bring much-needed security.


Yet he is also wary about a ruling that gives power back to people who abused it so thoroughly under the former regime.


"The decision is bad, in that the guilty gets his rights before the victim does," he said.


Shabaz Jamal is managing editor of the youth-oriented Liberal Education newspaper in Sulaimaniyah.


Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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