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Sunday | April 13, 2003

The New, Improved Baath Party, now under new management

Tempers Flare at Assembly In Basra

BASRA, Iraq, April 12 -- A stout, heavily bearded man in tribal dress rose to speak. His face was red and he was shouting. Saddam Hussein's government, he said, had killed many of his relatives and now he wanted revenge -- not the return to power of the same police force that had executed his family members.

"I'll kill them myself," he said. "I know the people who hurt us, and I'll get them! I'll get them!"

On stage in a medical lecture hall turned civic forum, the newly installed mayor of Basra smoothly deflected the man's anger. "Of course, you want your rights against the people who hurt you," said Sheik Muzahim Mustafa Kanan Tameemi, himself a onetime member of Hussein's Baath Party and a retired Iraqi general. "But there's no need for revenge, we'll get them by the law."


The new police chief had served as a police major under the Baath Party government, and many of those at the meeting refused to accept that the same police force -- which until recently made arbitrary arrests, tortured suspects and enforced dictatorial decrees -- would now be reestablished in the newly freed Iraq. All police have been ordered to report back to work. Tameemi said he is negotiating with the British force occupying the city to get permission for them to carry weapons.

From the start, there were memorable confrontations in this experiment with Iraqi openness. The very first questioner, an older man in tribal dress, rose to challenge Tameemi. "I want you to convince me that there are some good Baath Party members," he said. "Tell me about Saddam Hussein -- is he good or bad now?" He also pointedly demanded to know just who was responsible for the foreign occupation of Iraq.

"Let's have a new beginning," Tameemi responded, "and forget what happened before, even though there are things that can't be forgotten. Even if someone kills your father, you might pardon him later on."

Tameemi made clear he has little love for the British who named him mayor. "They said they are going to free Iraq," he said, "but they are an occupying force and we all know that. The British should treat the Iraqis well or they'll start a revolution like in 1920" -- when Iraq rebelled against the post-World War I British protectorate.

Bush Concerned by Iraq Looting, but Confident in Plan

The administration continues to struggle with its effort to generate sympathetic coverage in the Muslim world, although officials said they sense an encouraging trend from outrage to mere skepticism.

U.S. foreign service officers who speak Arabic are now giving briefings and interviews in Qatar. Representatives of the White House Office of Global Communications are making forays into Iraq with humanitarian workers, trying to promote news coverage of relief efforts. They also are working with the U.S. officials in Kuwait who are planning the postwar government.

One of the White House's most trusted behind-the-scenes aides is heading to the region to assist with rebuilding Iraq. Kristen Silverberg, a domestic policy official for Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., was a key figure in Bush's 2000 campaign. A source said Silverberg is going because she was interested in the work, and not at the behest of the White House.

You have to ask yourself a question, not an obvious one, but one all the same: who has a stake in our success?

At the end of the day, does the average Iraqi have a stake in our success. Will the desire for revenge outweigh the need for stability. Will they react badly once the US starts giving orders?

And most importantly, are we ready to deal with this?

I think reimposing the Baathists is far more of a risk than is acknowledged. Everyone is armed, everyone is angry and all it takes is one teenager who's dad didn't come home one night to turn the police into a target. Now, we have to impose order, but there seems to be an underlying assumption that Saddam's methods came from madness and not necessity.

We left thousands of armed Baathists around and at some point we will either have to hunt them down or bribe them out. Which is a tough choice. The hunting them down route forces us to arm and permit militias to kill people. The bribe solution may lead to a great deal of anger and violence.

The British are finally starting to police Basra and Al Faw, according to the BBC. Which is a hopeful sign. One would hope they could recruit ex-soldiers with no tie to the former Baathist police to restore basic order.

Everyone seems to be running to declare a success and we haven't even had Jay Garner give his first order. What happens if they give an order and then the SCIRI says they have to go? That anyone cooperating with occupation forces will be killed as a collaborator. Police in the street is a basic thing. But once you move beyond that, can cooperation last?

My mother asked me a question the other day: do Americans take everything at face value? All of a sudden, the cops are ready to go back to work for their new masters? We can find "low-level" Baathists to work with.

What if people, used to playing in a very tough system, where one mistake could get you killed in a most unpleasant way, are trying to use the US to reimpose Baath rule, which is really Sunni rule. Sure, they'll help turn on the power, and run the ministries and the next thing you know, the Sunnis are back in control, minus Saddam.

Of course, the Shia see this and they're feeling that the Okey Doke is being perpetrated again. One sign of positive change would be widespread cooperation between Sunni and Shia leadership. One dangerous sign would be the reimposition of Sunni Baathist power without any attempt to bring the Shia in to have their say. What you have to hope is that there are enough people to play along to the point that services can be restored.

If they aren't, if they become targets of roving guerrilla bands, and as I have said, destabilization is in the interests of many, the Iraqi people will be screwed once again. One would hope after 20 years of war, the instinct for peace would come through, but for many, they've nursed hatred for 20 years and the US/UK inability to control the streets is a sign that it's their time to strike.

Kirkuk, northern Iraq :: Dumeetha Luthra :: 1424GMT

Kirkuk's Arabs are being threatened with eviction. Returning Kurdish families are demanding their old homes back.

They've told Arab families to move out or be kicked out. The Arabs are not originally from here, but were brought in by Saddam Hussein to change the ethnic mix of the region.

Now they've been here for more than a decade and say they've nowhere else to go. So far the situation's remained calm.

The Arabs have not threatened to fight back. But it's certainly raising ethnic tensions in a city where the security situation is still fragile.

The other problem is that there is no clear choice to run Iraq. Ahmed Chalebi is the Pentagon's candidate, but his years outside of Iraq and lack of a power base would make him the Iraqi Kerensky, kept in power by US military force.

Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim has been in Iran for a long time and the US would rather not see Tehran's man in place. However, he's got intelligence and military support and his return to the country could allow thousands more to join him.

These two men are the most likely players to rise in a post-Saddam Iraq, because they represent the polls of Iraqi thought. Chalebi will cooperate with US power, al-Hakim will not. The other likely candidate is an 80 year old exile and the odds of him living through this process is unlikely. If al-Hakim decides to call for resistance, Chalebi does not have the name recognition or backing to survive it.

Al-Hakim's main problem is his tie to the Iranian mullahs and in secular Iraq that doesn't play well.

People keep talking about democracy in Iraq when the entire culture has been about appeasing the powerful or killing them. The political culture, which will take years to fully change, has empowered those treated unfairly with the moral right to kill those in charge. Saddam was a hitman who barely escaped with his life. He was obsessed with security.

That doesn't mean Iraqis don't want stability and a voice in their government, not at all. But it also doesn't mean they will accept the outcome of democratic rule, especially after centuries of Sunni subjugation. Running into the arms of the Baathists, which could have been avoided with a real coalition with Arab nations, may prevent the peace, stability and democracy Iraqis clearly deserve after 20 years of war.

Steve Gilliard

Posted April 13, 2003 02:42 PM | Comments (26)


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