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Iraq Report: January 18, 2008

Will Passage Of New Law Appease Sunnis?

By Sumedha Senanayake

Is Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government showing signs of progress?

In what is being trumpeted as a major political accomplishment for the Iraqi government, the Council of Representatives on January 12 unanimously passed the Accountability and Justice Law, which revises the de-Ba'athification order passed under the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003.

Under the de-Ba'athification law, thousands of Ba'athists were dismissed from their government jobs. The new legislation, once ratified by the three-member Presidential Council, would allow many of the former Ba'ath Party members to apply for reinstatement to their government posts.

Many Sunnis complained that the de-Ba'athification law was overly broad and amounted to collective punishment. The new legislation is believed to go a long way in easing the fears of Sunni Arabs, who once dominated the Hussein regime, of being completely sidelined.

The initial de-Ba'athification law was also seen as one of the main sources of anger fueling the Sunni-led insurgency against the Shi'ite-dominated government and the U.S. occupation. It is hoped that the Accountability and Justice Law mollifies much of the Sunni anger and persuades many Ba'athists to surrender their weapons and join the political process.

Mahmud Uthman, an independent Kurdish lawmaker, told the Xinhua news agency on January 12 that the new law would close the sectarian gap between Shi'a and Sunnis. "If this law is implemented correctly on the ground, it will allow many Ba'athists to return to the public life and will curb the violence," he said. "I think it is a right step toward the national reconciliation in Iraq."

Passing the legislation was also a victory for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Almost a year after the U.S. "surge" policy was initiated to allow breathing space for al-Maliki's government to move the political process forward, the government passed one of its most important pieces of legislation. Passing the law showed that al-Maliki's government, though slow, could indeed deliver results.

Punishing The Guilty

The new law is meant to punish those Ba'athists that committed crimes during the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but allow those who did not a chance to return to their jobs. The law distinguishes between two categories of Ba'athist: senior officials, and mid-level and lower-ranking officials.

Senior-level Ba'athists, who were in the top five of the party's 10 levels and responsible for implementing the former regime's policies, would still be banned from returning to their positions. However, if they were not convicted of any crimes, they would be retired with full pension.

Mid-level and lower-ranking Ba'athists who also did not have a criminal record would be allowed reinstatement to their positions. A seven-member panel will determine which mid and lower-level officials can be reinstated and which senior-level Ba'athists are eligible for their pensions.

However, no former Ba'athists can return to their positions in the judicial, ministerial, or security bureaucracies, or in the Foreign or Finance ministries. And members of Hussein's Fidayin security force won't receive pensions or be able to return to their jobs.

The new legislation also includes an article allowing victims of the Hussein regime to apply to special tribunals for monetary compensation.

New Law Still Divisive

While on the surface the decision by the Council of Representatives to pass the Accountability and Justice Law seemed to have been an extraordinary step toward national reconciliation, there were indications that the law could also prove to be divisive.

Soon after word spread that the law was passed, the Iraqi Ba'ath Party condemned it. Party spokesman Dr. Abu Muhammad issued a statement posted on the website on January 12 describing the law as essentially the de-Ba'athification law with a different name.

"Changing the name of the first law issued by the American occupation governor of Iraq [Paul Bremer] is a meager attempt to beautify the fascistic and brutal nature of the law, which brought shame on scandal on the occupation and its agents.... This will not change the objective of the Ba'ath Party, its members and supporters in continuing the resistance hand in hand with other resistance factions," the statement said.

Underscoring the divisiveness of the issue, the vote took place while the parliament barely had a quorum. Although the law was passed unanimously, only 143 lawmakers in the 275-member Council of Representatives were in attendance.

Following the law's passage, several Sunni political parties issued a joint statement rejecting the law, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on January 13. The Iraqi National List, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, the Independent Arab Bloc, the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, and independent members of the Iraqi Accordance Front said they had refused to vote on the law, calling it "difficult to apply."

The opponents said application of the law was "unrealistic" because it forbids the return of the Ba'ath Party, whether politically, ideologically, in practice, and under any other party name. Furthermore, they described the law as being "vague" and therefore easy to be misused by those looking to settle scores with former Ba'athists.

Salah al-Mutlaq, leader of the Sunni-led Front for National Dialogue, told McClatchy Newspapers on January 12 that all criminals, including Ba'athists, should be tried fairly by the Iraqi justice system, regardless of party affiliation. "Justice should be for everybody, accountability should be for everybody. You can not make the accountability only for Ba'athists," al-Mutlaq said.

Ba'athists May Be Wary Of New Law

Undoubtedly, reversing the de-Ba'athificaiton process has been one of the thorniest issues in Iraqi politics. Many Shi'ite groups, particularly Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc, have been strongly opposed to allowing any Ba'athists to enter the mainstream, for fear they may one day take power. Indeed, after 35 years of repressive policies by the former regime, Shi'a and Kurds have reason to be wary of the Ba'ath Party.

Ba'athists, too, may feel unease at the new legislation after more than four years of being sidelined in the new post-Hussein political landscape. Many may feel unwilling to confess their former affiliation or complicity in crimes in exchange for their government jobs or pension. Since there was no guarantee of amnesty, the price of incarceration may be too high for some Ba'athists to enter the mainstream.

Furthermore, some Ba'athists may also be wary of revealing themselves for fear of retribution. Former Ba'athists coming in from the shadows may face the ire of those who want to settle old scores. In this instance, it may be difficult for Ba'athists, who have been marginalized to believe that the Shi'a-dominated government would be able to protect them.

Finally, to temper Shi'ite and Kurdish fears, the new law bars former Ba'athists from certain positions in government, essentially making them second-class citizens. Many Ba'athists joined the party out of necessity, not out of party loyalty and punishment via association may further inflame the ire of the Ba'athists and the Sunni Arab community in general. For many, it may reaffirm their fears that the current government intends to sideline them as much as possible.

WHO Says Violence Has Claimed 151,000 Iraqi Civilians Since 2003

A newly released study by the World Health Organization (WHO) concludes that an estimated 151,000 Iraqis have died violent deaths in the three years since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

The WHO estimate is based on interviews in more than 9,000 households across Iraq and is among the most comprehensive of such surveys to date.

The death toll in Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 has been a subject of much controversy. The U.S. military keeps a precise count of its own killed and wounded soldiers, but not of Iraqi military or civilian casualties.

Estimates of Iraqi losses range from a high of over 600,000 deaths, according to a study published in the British medical journal "The Lancet," to an estimate of some 48,000 deaths by 2006, according to the group Iraq Body Count, which tracks local press reports.

By the UN's own admission, the WHO survey does not purport to resolve the issue once and for all. The figure of 151,000 deaths between 2003 and 2006 is still an estimate, based on an extrapolation of data.

But the WHO study is among the best-organized and largest-scale efforts to arrive at an accurate number, according to co-author Ties Boerma.

"It is the best possible picture we could obtain with a survey of this size under these circumstances," Boerma says. "The true picture in exact numbers of deaths can only be revealed by a full and complete registration system, and that isn't present in Iraq right now and it wasn't present since 2003."

Boerma adds that "there are certainly ways to improve work in the future, in terms of death registration, in terms of hospitals."

Between 2006 and 2007, the WHO sent teams of surveyors to some 1,000 towns and villages across the country to talk to people in more than 9,000 households.

Importantly, the survey work was done by local experts, in full cooperation with local communities, according to Naima al-Gassir, the WHO's representative in Iraq.

"The communities were informed ahead of time, through different ways, either through the media or through letters that went through them or through community leaders, or the mosques, or the religious places or the schools, and that was also a strength because they would support the survey and allow the survey to go on -- also the community support to make a high response rate for the survey," al-Gassir says.

He said the interviewers were primarily physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health professionals from the ministries of Health and of Higher Education. Statisticians from the Planning Ministry provided technical support.

Al-Gassir highlights the "extreme difficulty" and risks that accompanied the researchers' work in preparing a "large, countrywide survey of households under such circumstances." He says there was acute attention paid to the protection of "interviewers, teams, and also those who were being interviewed," adding that one of the directors of the central statistics office was killed in Baghdad, an interviewer was kidnapped, and there were other close calls with violence.

According to the WHO, what is clear is that between 2003 and 2006, violence was a leading cause of death for all Iraqi adults and the single greatest cause of death in males aged 15 to 59 -- a reflection of the massive impact of the war on the entire population.

Full survey results have been published in the "New England Journal Of Medicine."

U.S. Senator Martinez Sees 'Time To Consolidate Gains' In Iraq

U.S. Senator Mel Martinez at RFE/RL

PRAGUE -- Senator Mel Martinez (Republican, Florida) is a former secretary of housing and urban development under President George W. Bush. He serves on the Armed Services Committee, the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging. During a visit to RFE/RL's Prague headquarters, Senator Martinez spoke with RFE/RL about the "surge" of U.S. troops in Iraq, and the U.S. military's future role there.

RFE/RL: The troop surge has been seen in the United States as an effective strategy. What people want to know is: if the draw-down expected this year puts the gains made in jeopardy, will the United States be prepared to reverse course and maintain the present troop level to cement these gains and make them permanent?

Senator Mel Martinez: I had the privilege of visiting Iraq in August. When I was there, it was clear to me that the surge was making a difference, so the success we see now only confirms what I was able to see myself on the ground as early as last August. It is now undeniable that the surge has had a very important effect. And the effect has been a combination of the actions of United States troops but also very courageous actions of so many Iraqis, Iraqi civilians. Iraqis who have taken it upon see violence put aside and the opportunity for a better life [and] come forward.

I remember meeting Iraqis who wanted their children to go to school and have peace as they went to school; that is a universal desire. Every father -- I am a father and I am also a grandfather -- has the wish that their children be educated [and] move in the world in a peaceful way. In terms of that question that you asked me, I think the only thing that would prevent the United States from continuing the commitment would be if we lost the hope that the Iraqi people and their governmental representatives were willing to come together to reach the types of political reconciliation necessary to put aside sectarianism and live together as a peaceful and united country.

President Bush will not change in his commitment, and I really believe that as long as there is a sign of hope and progress toward a constructive future, the United States' commitment will continue to be there. I think better days are ahead and difficult days are past, and I think now it is time to consolidate the gains from the hard work of Iraqi people coming together and rejecting violence, rejecting Al-Qaeda. The hard work of American forces working together can now be consolidated [as] people put aside their sectarian instincts and move together to have a peaceful country.

RFE/RL: Iraq plans to begin negotiations with the United States this year to replace the UN mandate for the Multinational Force with a new arrangement. How do you perceive the long-term status of the U.S. presence in Iraq?

Martinez: First of all, I think it is very important to know that the Iraqi people know that the United States has no ambitions for conquest. The United States does not wish to occupy Iraqi; the United States only wishes to be in a partnership with Iraq to the extent that the Iraqi people want our involvement and our partnership. But assuming that that is the case, I think that the United States would be willing to make with Iraq the same type of arrangements that it has with many other democratic and independent countries, where they discuss in a free environment the arrangements by which we will cooperate with one another.

If invited, and if they will it, then [Iraq will have] the participation of the United States forces over a long period of time to provide a backup and...perhaps the necessary stability and military presence that could ensure that the violence in the past remains in the past, and does not return in the future. But this would be an arrangement in conjunction with and in partnership with our Iraqi friends. [It] would not be imposed by the United States; the United States does not have a habit of conquering other countries. The United States occupied many countries in Europe after World War II, France in particular, Germany as well. Those countries today are independent and vibrant. The United States helped pacify them, helped to develop an economic stability that has enabled these countries to flourish. What better example is there than Japan?