WaPo: Iraqis Exact Revenge on Baathists

[There have been] a series of murders of former Baath Party officials in [Baghdad]. Iraqi sources with contacts among former and current security officials estimate that about 50 senior figures in Hussein’s intelligence, military intelligence and internal security organizations have been gunned down in recent months. There has been an even larger toll among neighborhood party officials, such as Taee, who are blamed for having informed on the local community during Hussein’s rule, these sources said.

Neither the morgue nor officers in Iraq’s new police force — who concede they have little interest in probing these deaths — have tallied the figures. But the phenomenon is citywide, according to a survey of police stations, with numbers varying widely from one district to another.


The massive settling of scores that some U.S. and Iraqi officials had predicted did not initially materialize after Hussein’s government fell in April. Sporadic killings occurred during the following months, notably in the southern city of Basra. But only in recent weeks did the tempo of attacks accelerate as Iraqis, frustrated with the slow progress of the court system and fearing that Baathists may be seeking to reorganize, have increasingly taken justice into their own hands, according to Iraqi security and political sources.

“We are an Eastern, tribal society with the principle of vengeance. Revenge will be exacted,” said Maj. Abbas Abed Ali of the Baya police station in southwest Baghdad. He said at least six Baathists have been murdered in his district since late November.

In Sadr City, a sprawling, hardscrabble neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, police reported that the assassinations began about three weeks ago and now number at least one or two a day, perhaps more. They said some families do not disclose that the victims were Baathists.

“This is absolutely organized, but we don’t know precisely who’s behind it,” said Capt. Awad Nima, who heads police administration in Sadr City. “These killings are a vendetta for the killings by the Baath Party. . . . Would you expect those people who lost their sons not to take any action?”

Nima said the assassinations have centered on Hussein followers implicated in violence, not all former party members. The murders seem meticulously planned, and the perpetrators leave behind no clues, he said. With few leads, detectives have made little progress in figuring out who is killing the Baathists, but Nima said this does not trouble him.

“There’s only a limited number of them. Once they’re all dead, this will have to end,” he said.

This is certainly understandable and, indeed, to be expected. But it is not a welcome development if inculcating the rule of law and civil society is a short term goal.

The killings of Baath security officials have revealed fissures in Iraqi society, not only between supporters and opponents of the Hussein government but also between some Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Most of the security chiefs were Sunnis like Hussein; the suspected killers are Shiites.

Sunnis increasingly view the bloodletting in sectarian terms. At the memorial reception for Alousi, dozens of mourners gathered in two facing rows of chairs arrayed under a tent. Young men moved among them with cups of sweet tea, trays of cigarettes and a bottle of rose water perfume. The guests whispered among themselves, sharing details of Alousi’s death, passing news about other murders and musing about revenge.

“For each one they kill,” said a mourner, “we’ll kill four.”

Again, this isn’t particularly surprising. But it’s a major obstacle to created a unified state.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I fear that in order to create a unified state in Iraq (or Afghanistan) we’d have to subcontract the job to Saddam Hussein. People get about the government they deserve…