WaPo: U.S. Moves to Rehire Some From Baath Party, Military

The United States is moving to rehire former members of Iraq’s ruling Baath Party and senior Iraqi military officers fired after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, in an effort to undo the damage of its two most controversial policies in Iraq, according to U.S. officials.

The U.S. administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, proposed the policy shifts to broaden the strategy to entice the powerful Sunni minority back into the political fold and weaken support for the insurgency in the volatile Sunni Triangle, two of the most persistent challenges for the U.S.-led occupation, the officials say. Both policies are at the heart of national reconciliation, increasingly important as the occupation nears an end.

“Iraq has a highly marginalized Sunni minority, and the more that people of standing can be taken off the pariah list, the more that community will become involved politically,” said a senior envoy from a country in the U.S.-led coalition.

The Bush administration is fleshing out details, which it hopes to conclude this week. But the United States, backed by Britain, has decided in principle to, as officials variously characterized it, “fix” or “soften” rigid rules that led to the firing of Iraqis in the Baath Party from top government positions and jobs in such fields as teaching and medicine.

The U.S.-led coalition is already bringing back senior military officers to provide leadership to the fragile new Iraqi army, with more than half a dozen generals from Hussein’s military appointed to top jobs in the past week alone, U.S. officials said. Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, chief of Central Command, is working to identify other commanders to bring back, officials added.

“The decisions made a year ago have bedeviled the situation on the ground ever since. Walking back these policies is a triumph of the view in the field over policies originally crafted in Washington,” said a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy. Ironically, the two policies were the first actions taken by Bremer, who brought them from Washington, when he arrived in Baghdad to assume leadership of the U.S-led occupation last May.

I understand the rationale for the original policy but this reversal was inevitable. Like it or not, every Iraqi with experience in public administration or military affairs was in the government or the military. Not using their talents makes reconstruction much harder. This lesson seemingly has to be learned every time there’s a conquest and reconstruction plan–the U.S. Civil War, WWII, and post-apartheid South Africa come immediately to mind.

I do wish the administration would stop this nonsense:

The administration says neither move is a reversal, but foreign policy experts said it will appear that way in practice to Iraqis. “We are reviewing implementation of policies to look at how to better balance the desire to employ resident expertise with the need for justice,” said National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack.

It’ll appear like a reversal because this is a reversal. A complete 180 from the original policy. Changing policies that demonstrably aren’t working is a good thing; own up to it.

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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. Tom Doyle says:

    “I understand the rationale for the original policy”

    I never understood it, or rather I don’t know what it was. Do you know where I might find a statement of it?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Christopher Hitchens explains it quite well. See this post from Tuesday.

  3. Tom Doyle says:

    Mr. Joyner:
    Thanks for your reply.

    I read your excerpts and also the entire article at Slate. Regarding “de-Baathification,” Hitchens wrote:

    “Now we hear on all sides, including Lakhdar Brahimi of the United Nations, that de-Baathification was also a mistake. Can you imagine what the antiwar critics, and many Iraqis, would now be saying if the Baathists had been kept on?”

    This seems to be a reason that Mr. Hitchens considers the “de-Baathification” program well advised, rather than a statement of the rationale for the policy itself. In all fairness to Hitchens, he doen’t represent this statement as being the Bush administration’s rationale for de-Baathification.

    Hitchens-with respect to the decision to disband the Iraqi army – continues:
    “This point extends to Paul Bremer’s decision to dissolve the Baathist armed forces. That could perhaps have been carried out with more tact, and in easier stages. But it was surely right to say that a) Iraq was the victim of a huge and parasitic military, which invaded externally and repressed internally; and b) that young Iraqi men need no longer waste years of their lives on nasty and stultifying conscription.”

    Who said this, and when?

    “Moreover, by making it impossible for any big-mouth brigadier or general to declare himself the savior of Iraq in a military coup, the United States also signaled that it would not wish to rule through military proxies.”

    Hitchens, in his comments about disbanding the military does give the impression that he’s stating why the US acted as it did. Do you understand this to be true?

    I’m not disputing the merits of Hitchens’ theories as policy arguments. Rather I’m looking for the rationales articulated by the US when the policies were announced,and/or subsequently.

    You may not know what they were or where they are. I know I don’t. If so I’ll keep looking. Either way, thanks for your help.