Iraq’s parliament has just passed a bill which bans the Baath Party, or whatever still remains of its former self from political activities. The recently promulgated bill also states that “anybody caught implementing policies of the Baath party will be put in jail for at least 10 years. And those who have held hands with the party will receive life imprisonment”. The text of the ban targets beyond the Baath party since it says, “This decree includes other parties who have similar ideas and political messages to the Baath party.”
The Iraqi parliament has also banned “entities that profess or promote racism, terrorism, sectarianism or sectarian cleansing” along side the Baath party. Political entities spreading contradictory messages against democracy and orderly transfer of power also have been banned, although no one was specifically named in the recently passed laws.
“We want to confirm that there is no place for those who brutalized our population and we are on the path to defeating the terrorist gangs and those who assist them,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in a televised address. “Banning the Baath party is a great success for the nation and families of martyrs in Iraq because this party committed the most vicious crimes,” added the Prime Minister.
Iraq’s security situation has worsened in recent months, with deadly attacks by ISIS militants escalating. Hundreds of civilians have died recently in Iraq from terrorist attacks, including a recent market bombing where 250 persons died. Under such a backdrop, the parliament proceeded to ban the Baath party. However, the utility of such a ban should remain a suspect, since the party arguably is already severely marginalized in Iraq since the Paul Bremer’s US Coalition Provisional Authority banned it in 2003.
Back in 1968 the Baath Party came to power in Iraq after its Assistant Secretary General Saddam Hussein led a successful coup. Maintaining a secular identity for most of its existing, the Baathists resorted to Islamic zeal only during the 1990s after the first Gulf War.
After Saddam’s ouster and the fall of Iraq during the US led war in 2002, a massive scale de-Baathification process started targeting the former supporters and beneficiaries of the Bathist regime. However, over the next 10 years, key stake holders in the region started to be skeptical about the utility of the de-Baathification process, having realized that a vast population of Iraqis were with the baathists not because of ideology, but political and economic expediencies.
Many government officers, police, and army personnel after the Iraq war came out saying that they were with the Baath party simply to get ahead in the stagnant economic environment, not due to ideology.
Yet, the US led de-bathification process after the Iraq war led to the firing of thousands of state employees based on their affiliations with the Baath party, irrespective of whether these men were directly involved in atrocities. Subsequent analysis had shown that the large scale firings devoid of appropriate legal process, seriously jeopardized post war Iraqi government’s ability to run a functioning civil bureaucracy and a disciplined military. Decades of Baathist rule of Iraq had left little room for non-baathists to take part in the country’s functioning institutions, therefore, wide scale purge of the Baathists made post-war institution building impossible in Iraq without the Baathists.
The emergence of ISIS has also been attributed to the botched de-baathificiation process of the early 2000’s. “Many of the problems we see in Iraq today stem from that disastrous decision to dismantle the Iraqi army and embark on a programme of debaathification,” said the British foreign secretary Philip Hammond, in a foreign affairs select committee on July 2016 in UK. Mr Hammond further stated, “It is clear a significant number of former Ba’athist officers have formed the professional core of Daesh a.k.a. Isis in Syria and Iraq and have given that organisation the military capability it has shown in conducting its operations.”
Under such a backdrop, there is serious and reasonable skepticism around the Iraqi parliament’s latest gambit towards re-banning the Baath party. The key question is whether the party effectively exists today, and even if it does, whether it poses a threat to the functioning of the Iraqi state.