In Iraq, Saddam Hussein's old guard remains on fringes
Washington contends that allowing ex-Baathists back into the fold is key to undercutting the insurgency.
Azzawi should have already been re-instated in Iraq's security forces. But he's still languishing on the fringes, like many other ex-Baathists unsure of whether to join the new order or keep pining for the past.Skip to next paragraph
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The Saddam Hussein-era colonel, who asked to be identified by only his common tribal name for safety reasons, has seen others like him assassinated and kidnapped. So he stays mostly in his Baghdad home and says he's convinced that there is no place for him within the country's Shiite-led government.
Iraq's parliament passed a new law on Jan. 12 amending de-Baathification legislation – originally introduced by the US administrator L. Paul Bremer in 2003 to purge the government and security forces of senior members of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party – but critics say it is even stricter than the first and offers even fewer chances for thousands of embittered, high-ranking Baathists to return to the fold.
"The new law is twisted and incredibly unfair," says Azzawi. "I am filled with hope now more than ever that the Baath Party will lead Iraq again."
The Bush administration sees reforming de-Baathification as critical to national reconciliation and vital to undercutting support to insurgents. But it has been marred by political missteps and sectarian feuds.
And now some warn that the new law, called Accountability and Justice, could further polarize Iraq and give new cause for Baathists to continue suspected funding of militants.
Izzat Shabender, a secular Shiite parliamentarian from the party of ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi, who was on the committee that dealt with the law, says senior Baathists that he's in contact with, mainly in Jordan and Syria, have rejected the law. "It did not solve the problem politically, which is the core of the matter."
He wants the process of de-Baathification scrapped and to have those facing criminal charges tried in regular courts.
A year ago, the US was pushing Iraq to pass what it called the "Reconciliation and Accountability" law as the cornerstone of political reconciliation, which it hoped would occur with the surge in US troops. It was also a benchmark among those devised by Washington to measure progress.