Political Progress Update

POLITICAL PROGRESS UPDATE….Today saw the first concrete sign of political reconciliation in Iraq: the passage of a law that eases the anti-Baathist order put in place by Jerry Bremer at the beginning of the American occupation in 2003. In theory, the new law should allow thousands of Sunni ex-members of Saddam’s civil service to once again serve in government jobs.

Whether it works out that way remains to be seen. The Washington Post quotes Ali al-Lami, spokesman for the current de-Baathification commission, saying that the law will have just the opposite effect, making it easier to get rid of even more Sunnis:

The new measure could lead to a new purge of members of the current Iraqi government, Lami said, including about 7,000 officers in the Interior Ministry. Even influential Iraqi security force officials who used to be Baathists could face removal.

“The commander of the Baghdad security plan and his assistants, according to the new law, they should retire,” he said.

The New York Times provides an even bigger estimate:

One Shiite politician, who spoke on condition that his name not be used, said the new law could forcibly retire up to 27,000 former Baathists, who would receive pensions.

On the other hand, the Times quotes other officials suggesting that the law would allow 13,000 to 31,000 former Baathists to regain their jobs. So who knows? Whether reconciliation is really in the offing depends on just how the law is enforced and who does the enforcing. Wait and see.

UPDATE: As Juan Cole points out, there’s another reason to be dubious about this new law. It’s the Sadrists who were originally opposed to easing de-Baathification and the Sunni parties who were for it, but when the final draft of the legislation got to parliament, the Sadrists voted for the law and the Sunnis didn’t. That’s a little hard to square with the law being a genuine attempt at reconciliation with the Sunnis.