Monday, September 08, 2008

Behind the Supreme Council concerns about a coup: Baath-phobia

An op-ed writer sympathetic to the Supreme Council had this explanation of Adel Abdul Mahdi's coup warning (dated Sept 5, something I overlooked at the time; h/t Sam Parker):
The warning that he issued is owing to his familiarity with the structure of the Iraqi army, which is assumed to be new and different from the [prior] army which carried out more than one coup--and [the warning is owing to] his knowledge that foreign advisers have convinced the Iraqi leadership to make use of the expertise of prior officers who had served under the government of the Baath party, not in operational leadership but in the areas of training and preparation, and thus persons suspected of Baathist thought are able to penetrate to important positions. And they have participated importantly in building up the military structure according to Baathist theory, and they trained them in the same ways, to have set loyalty to the army leadership, and this facilitates obedience and motivation to fight against the masses of the people on the orders of those leaders. And that is what happened in Khaniqin, where the attack brigade wreaked terror and chaos on a city that had been stable, with their attacks and insults against the people and the notables, pointing their machine-guns at the chest of unarmed citizens...
Lest we dismiss this writer, with his phobia of the Baathists, as an outlier in the Supreme Council milieu, recall last week's sermon by Supreme Council parliamentary leader and preacher Jaladdin al-Saghir, who said, in explaining the dangers of poor voter turnout, that the alienation of voters is part of the "discourse of the Baathists, who are promoting this so that people will see only the dark spots [in the government]", adding:
"The conspirators [meaning the Baathists] are still planning by various routes to return to their former status, or to a part of their former status, and they have now seen that elections are an easier means and a quicker way for them to return to those responsibilities..."
Saghir sees the hand of the Baathists ready to exploit voter discontent with the government; similarly what this op-ed writer says is that Mahdi sees the hand of Baathists behind the militarization that he warns could conceivably lead to a military coup.

And if you are wondering what could possible keep alive this kind of phobia in the military/intelligence area, consider the following piece this morning's AlHayat. It's headed: "American source to AlHayat: Director of the De-Baathification Agency provided information that helped 'special groups' kill Iraqis", and it quotes an anonymous American official to the effect that Ali al-Lami, director of the De-Baathification Commission, arrested recently (Aug 28) by the Americans, used his position to feed specific information on Baathists to Shiite death squads. The official was evasive when the reporter asked him when they plan to turn Al-Lami over to the Iraqi government, saying only that under the terms of the current UN mandate, the Americans are entitled to act on their own in cases like this.

It is the kind of thing that the op-ed writer might well have had in mind when he wrote of Mahdi's warning, that it was based on his understanding of the fact that "foreign advisers have convinced the Iraqi leadership to use the expertise" of officers that have served under the former regime.

Sam Parker of USIP says the reports of Mahdi's remarks on this have been overwrought (actually the only report on this in English I've seen is my own, so I guess he was referring to the reports in Arabic). But be that as it may, and whatever the underlying possibilities may or may not be, it is at least worth the effort to try and understand the mind-set of the Supreme Council people who are obviously concerned about this.

But when he says "this [Arabic] media speculation is about 1% substance and 99% hype," it sounds a little as if Sam Parker knows as well or perhaps better than the people in the Supreme Council milieu when it will be time to actually worry. Hopefully when he thinks the ratio of substance to hype changes he will let everyone know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, one might have to wonder if the anti Baathist "phobia" is some sort of Supreme Council dog whistle that sounds a little like "occupation forces." As in election promoting, Sons of Iraq, and army training "occupation forces". Oh, and I forgot Director of de-Batthification arresting "occupation forces."

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mahdi's remark is a favor to the Kurds. They rightly fear a strong Iraqi military which they may have to fight in the inevitable territorial disputes.

The Ba'thists in Iraq have no public support nor a unified leadership. The "Ba'thists are coming" cry is engineered by the Kurds' western advisors, and an echo of the "commies are coming" in the US during the cold war.

Mahdi himself is an ex-Ba'thist by the way.

1:31 AM  
Blogger JoshSN said...

It reminds me of the same tactics some Bush supporters use here.

America was never losing in Iraq because of a combination of bungling incompetence, ignorance, christianism or xenophobia, but mostly because the press wasn't sufficiently supportive of Our Brave Pretzeldent and his War On Terror for Democracy.

At least, that's what I see when I read "Baathists [] are promoting this so that people will see only the dark spots [in the government]."

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here I think it may be useful to emphasise Abd al-Mahdi’s role as the acceptable face of ISCI to the outside world. In the interview quoted, he is critical about militarism and talks about aggression against the Assyrian Christians in the 1930s etc. On the other hand, Saghir and Qubbanji et al. speak to the ISCI core membership. Just like Iran, they have always been eager to dismiss their political enemies as “Baathists”, warning against secularists as “the return of the Baath” during the 2005 elections, and condemning any idea of wide-ranging constitutional revision as “concessions to Baathists” in 2007.

9:01 AM  
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