Iraq: Baath Reborn


February 16, 2006: A major split may be imminent in the leadership of the Iraqi Baath Party. Most of its senior leaders mostly either dead or prisoners of Iraqi and Coalition forces. The balance of the party's leadership is in exile. Some are known to be in Syria and Egypt, and others possibly in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as outside the Middle East entirely. As a result, there is no centralized party leadership, which seems to have led to serious "debate" about the party, and its purposes, for the first time in decades.

In origins, the Baath Party was a secular revolutionary socialist movement with strong Pan-Arabic convictions (hence its name, which implies "renaissance" or "resurrection"). The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein essentially turned the party's ideological "true believers" into second class citizens, as the party was subordinated to the needs of the dictatorship and Saddam's extended family. With Saddam's heavy hand gone, and pro-Saddam Baathists as scattered as everyone else in the movement, an opportunity has presented itself for the "real" Baathists to reassert themselves. As a result, the long buried factions in the party have been re-emerging. While some folks still cling to the Saddamite vision, others are looking toward a return to revolutionary principles, still others to a moderation of the party's original ideology to better cope with contemporary reality, and yet others are inclining toward reforms that would enable the party to reach an accommodation with the new Iraq and join in the electoral process.
In the past, any such rifts would have brought swift retribution, and there is likely to be some internal warfare among the factions before one emerges at the help of the Baath movement.
What this means for the future of Iraq will depend on a number of factors. Obviously, if the accomodationist faction emerges victorious, Baath support for the anti-government terrorism will decrease, assuming the new leadership can assert their authority over the Baathist-oriented terror groups. A decrease in support for terrorism may also result if the ideological faction gains mastery of the movement, though this is probably less likely. If the Saddamites retain control, the party's support for terrorism will continue.

The Iraqi navy has taken over, from coalition naval forces, responsibility for guarding the al Basra oil terminal. The Iraqi navy has also cleaned out most of the pirates that were preying on ships coming into Basra port.

Ashore in Basra, British troops are running into problems with police corruption. The local government has been unwilling to control the police force, which has been infiltrated members of Shia militias and criminal gangs. As the British began to arrest police for stealing and murder, the provincial government protested, and said they would no longer cooperate with British. The local politicians have more to fear from the Shia militias and gangsters, than they do from the British. This despite demonstrations against British brutality (as seen in a newly released video showing British soldiers beating up some Iraqi men.) There have also been demonstrations against the Danish cartoons. There are rarely demonstrations against the depredations of the militias and gangsters, for the very simple reason that these thugs will kill or beat anyone who openly opposes them. This unwillingness to confront corruption and crime is the main reason for Iraq's economic and political problems. The Iraqis are too easily terrorized, and not willing to take responsibility for defending freedom and democracy.

Of the Iraqi army's 102 battalions, 40 are now responsibility for maintaining security in specific areas. Each battalion has a ten man team of American advisors, plus air controllers (to bring in air strikes) as needed. By the end of the year, the majority of Iraqi army battalions will be responsible for keeping order in a part of the country. It's expected that some of these battalions will be compromised by the usual corruption and poor leadership. Coalition trainers have increased their efforts to improve the quality of Iraqi officers and NCOs. But there is still the basic problem of corruption, and the ease with which soldiers and police can be bought off. If that doesn't work, security forces can often be scared off via kidnapping or threats to kin.


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