Frederick Kagan: Says new law allowing Baathists back into government is promising

Historians in the News

Iraq's new de-Baathification bill, which awaits only expected approval by the presidency council before becoming law, is good news. During Saddam Hussein's day, if you wanted a professional job in Iraq, you basically had to join the Baath Party. For most of the 1 million-plus who did so, this hardly implied involvement or even complicity in crimes of the state. Hussein was so paranoid that only his very inner circles were entrusted with information or influence. The Shiite-led government now seems willing to recognize as much. Coupled with the pension law passed in late fall, this legislation means that many former Baathists will have a real stake in post-Hussein Iraq.

The legislation is one of half a dozen key political "benchmarks" we have expected Iraqi leaders to address. Others are hydrocarbon legislation; a provincial powers act; a law to facilitate the next round of local elections; a process for holding a referendum on the political future of Kirkuk, the disputed northern oil city; and a better process for purging sectarian extremists from positions of government authority. Apart from de-Baathification reform, major steps have been taken only on the last of these. But there has been real progress on other important matters, including Baghdad's sharing of oil revenue with the provinces, even without a hydrocarbon law; the hiring of Sunni volunteers into the security forces and the civilian arms of government; and improvements in the legal system, such as more trained judges and fewer indefinite detentions of prisoners. Iraq's political glass remains more empty than full, but trends are clearly in the right direction.

This progress resulted from a year's worth of substantial effort to reduce violence in Iraq. Proponents of the "surge" always said that getting violence under control was an essential prerequisite to reconciliation, not the other way around. The full surge has been in place and operating for just over six months, and already violence has fallen dramatically across the country. The achievement in such a short time of significant legislation requiring all sides to accept risk and compromise with people they had recently been fighting is remarkable....

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