Lakhdar Brahimi and US Generals led the way last week, both camps hinting that de-Baathification in Iraq was a policy too stridently enforced by US civilian command. And by week’s end, their remarks were answered by Paul Bremer, who, “with Iraqi resistance growing, especially in the Sunni Triangle region west of Baghdad,” invited tens of thousands of Sunni Iraqis back into his nation-building plans.
And so began the de-de-Baathification of Iraq. Or was it just the gambit of the week?
Speaking from Rome Tuesday, Brahimi said, in code that had Baath written all over it, “The large number of political prisoners in Iraq and the large number of office workers who have been fired more than once without any clear reason, are a big problem for the international community with regard to the peace process and their efforts to pacify the country.”
Speaking almost simultaneously from a palace overlooking the Tigris River, US Major General John Batiste said that some of the million members of the Iraqi ruling party should be allowed to return to work. “They would be schoolteachers. They would be engineers.”
Bremer’s concession to peacemakers and generals came at the precise time when the US needed to isolate political support for armed insurgents in Fallujah. On the eve of a US assault on the city, Bremer relented on his policy of mass punishment toward Iraqi teachers and bureaucrats who had once belonged to the ruling party.
In a Wednesday article, “Don’t Forget the Alamo,” I reported that Brahimi’s support for old Baathists in the Sunni Triangle might be a deal-breaker for Kurds and Shi’a leaders who have constituted the ruled majority for so long.
Brahimi is under pressure by the White House to bring everyone together by June 30, and his rehabilitation of Baathists brings some gravity to the emerging government that had been previously missing. Ahmed Chalabi, the returned expatriate, will now be dropped, according to various recent sources.
With the Fallujah militia threatening to unify anti-US rebellion among Sunnis, Bremer’s reversal seems to be doing only what will be considered necessary to minimize the political fallout of a full-scale US assault on that city.
Yet Bremer’s reversal sends another message, too. By abandoning his criminal policy toward the Baathists, Bremer’s action shows that Fallujah militia may deserve some respect for representing legitimate complaints against the policies of US occupation.
Bremer’s de-Baathification policy had been questionable from the start. He fired thousands of teachers at a time.
Like Al-Sadr’s rebels in the Shi’a holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, the Fallujah militia seem to be saying things that the US authority needs to hear.
Rather than respect the rebels for bringing the civilian authority to its senses, President Bush persists in calling them, “a bunch of thugs and killers.”
Again, I say, don’t forget the Alamo. US forces can kill every rebel in several cities at once. But if those militia represent the heartfelt grievances of besieged Iraqis, then Iraqi history will be written like Texas history some day.