The Return of Saddam’s Generals

by PATRICK COCKBURN

 

Baghdad

Iraqi generals who fought for Saddam Hussein are being reinstated to strengthen the new US-trained Iraqi army half of whose soldiers mutinied or went home during fighting earlier this month.

More than half a dozen generals from the old Iraqi army, dissolved by the US-led Coalition last May, have already been given jobs say American officials according to the US press.

Former members of the Baath party will also be employed in the government.

The abrupt reversal of previous policy comes as a senior US general admitted that 10 per cent of the Iraqi security services actually changed sides during recent fighting and another 40 per cent went home.

It was known that one Iraqi battalion had refused to fight against fellow Iraqis in Fallujah and police and paramilitary units walked off the job earlier in April. But Maj Gen Mark Dempsey, the commander of the 1st Armoured Division based in Baghdad, said that the disintegration of the security services went much further than previously admitted.

Gen Dempsey said: About 40 per cent walked off the job because they were intimidated. And about 10 per cent actually worked against us.

He added that the mutineers were infiltrators.

The setback for the US is very significant because over the last nine months building up Iraqi security forces to replace US troops has been a central and much-publicised plank in US policy in Iraq.

Gen Dempsey took comfort from the fact that about 50 per cent of the security services that we’ve built up over the last year stood tall and stood firm.

Paul Bremer, the US viceroy in Iraq, is reversing the policy under which the 350,000-strongE Iraqi army was dissolved and 750,000 members of the Baath party were either sacked from their jobs or found it difficult to gain employment. It is widely admitted among US officials that the disbandment of the army and de-Baathification were disastrous decisions helping to fuel the insurgency among Sunni Arabs, only a fifth of all Iraqis but the foundation of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Among those to regain their jobs will be 11,000 teachers and hundreds of university professors who were former Baath party members.

Membership of the Baath was a requirement under Saddam Hussein for most government posts.

In a Sunni Arab town like Hawijah in western Kirkuk province the local mayor complained last year that he might have to close the local hospital because so many of the doctors were Baathists and, under de-Baathication, had to be dismissed.

The headmaster of a big local boys school was forced to resign but his successor, a Turkoman, was too frightened to take up his job. Boys at the school planned to burn it down and were only dissuaded by the former Baathist headmaster.

Members of the top four ranks of the Baath were to be dismissed under a campaign against Baathism led by Ahmed Chalabi, the chairman of Iraqi Governing Council’s committee on de-Baathification.

The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and Washington were clearly alarmed at the degree of alienation of Sunni and Shia Arabs, 80 per cent of the population, earlier this month. Allowing the Baath party members to get top jobs is aimed at conciliating the Sunni Arab community.

But the central problem of the CPA remains the lack of legitimacy and popular support for the Iraqi Governing Council or any of the institutions of the Iraqi state. This means that Iraqis who cooperate with them, including generals who rejoin the army, risk being seen as collaborators. Even Iraqi journalists who are shown on television asking questions at Coalition press conferences in Baghdad have received death threats.

Meanwhile a US spokesman said yesterday in Baghdad that the ceasefire in Fallujah would last a matter of days rather than weeks unless the insurgents handed over their heavy weapons. The US army showed, with some disgust, pictures of the rusting rockets and mortars and elderly machine guns that head been handed in the US Marines surrounding the city so far.

Some 36 Iraqis were killed during fighting in Fallujah according to the US. The

US military say they want to see a whole field full of weapons such as heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers. But it is not clear how the civilian leaders of Fallujah can persuade all of the guerrillas to give up their weapons.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

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