De-Baathification Remains Centre-Stage

By Reidar Visser.

The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Whereas 20 March was a suitable date for reflecting on the background of the Iraq War and the role of the United States, 9 April – the date when the Baathist regime fell in 2003 – is above all about the legacy of the war and the nature of the new political regime that emerged in the post-2003 period. News from the Iraqi cabinet and parliament during the past week provides an interesting window on the state of play in democratic politics in “the new Iraq”.

On the one hand, there are certainly signs of a degree of normalcy within a political framework that must be described as competitive, if perhaps not as splendidly democratic as some enthusiasts for the war had in mind. Iraqi oil income is on the rise, parliament recently agreed on the distribution of revenue through the annual budget, and Iraq is beginning to resume contacts with the rest of the Arab and international world after decades of isolation under Saddam Hussein.

On the other hand, there are also indications about the limits of progress. An increasing number of ministers in the Iraqi cabinet are acting ministers that do not enjoy parliamentary approval. This includes not only the all-important security portfolios, which were never agreed in the first place when the second government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was formed in December 2010. More recently, critics of Maliki including parts of the secularist Iraqiyya, Kurds and Sadrists have temporarily withdrawn ministers from cabinet meetings without resigning from their ministries, prompting the appointment of more acting ministers by Maliki and turf wars over ministerial influence.

And these are not the only problems. Maliki was recently summoned to parliament to be held accountable for the latest spate of serious security ministers; he responded by excusing himself, insisting he was too busy running the affairs of the state to indulge in conversation with the Iraqi national assembly. Similarly, in another move unlikely to inspire confidence in the security situation in the country, local elections scheduled for 20 April were postponed, probably in an illegal way, in two Sunni-dominated provinces bordering on Syria.

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