Wednesday, April 28, 2004


Joel Mowbray, in Front Page Magazine makes several troubling assertions regarding Bremer's loosening of Iraq's de-baathification policy. After accusing the New York Times of indulging in "shameless spin" on behalf of the Bush administration (surely a first?), he makes the following startling assertion:

    "For starters, there are no actual teachers who were impacted by de-Baathification. In the broader field of education, lots of people were ousted from government positions--but they were largely administrators, principals, and chancellors.

    To the extent people were ousted whose jobs were as teachers, they were only fired if they were top Baath Party leaders. Consider the treatment given to some 'teachers' under Saddam. Those who actively supported the regime made up to seven or eight times as much as real teachers--meaning the primary source or their income was not teaching, but loyalty. Loyalty to the Butcher of Baghdad.

    The unfunny punch line to the 'teachers' joke is that thousands of teachers who did not actively report to Saddam on students and fellow teachers and who were newly re-hired last year will now lose their jobs to make room for Baathist thugs, according to former Defense Department official Michael Rubin, who was in Iraq until recently."

If true, this is a very serious charge. But what evidence do we have that this is actually the case? Mowbray offers no source for his claims and they directly contradict the Coalition's official explicit statement:

    "But many Iraqis have complained that the de-Ba'athification procedures have been applied at times unevenly and sometimes unfairly, particularly in the education sector, where the requirement for teachers and professors to join the Ba'ath Party was strongly enforced. Many teachers were Ba'athists in name only, and the result was that many of these teachers were dismissed from their jobs when the de-Ba'athification policy was implemented."

Furthermore, in today's briefing [make that yesterday's briefing, it's later than I realized -- JoC] this issue is revisited, along with a new policy for restoring people unjustly fired by Saddam for political reasons:

    "The ministry estimates that there are now approximately 20,000 teachers who were fired by Saddam's regime, as I said, including the rejection -- and for political reasons, including the rejection of Ba'athist ideology. They were often forced to teach Ba'athist ideology and if they did not they were fired. In many cases, however, they were fired not because of what they did themselves but in retribution for actions allegedly taken by members of their family. And we are working with the Ministry of Education right now on a way to address those.

    You know in Ambassador Bremer's address to the nation last week he talked about what we are doing to reinstate jobs for teachers who were Ba'athist in name only but were not participants in the crimes of the regime, and ways in which we could reintegrate them not only into their employment but back into Iraqi society. The same applies with the same diligence and discipline focused on those teachers who were unjustly dismissed under the former regime, who were not only not participants in the crimes, but were also not even Ba'athist in name only; they had no connection to Ba'athist ideology, and in many cases that's why they were released, or because they were tied to family members targeted for retribution by the former regime."

So it appears that the question of party loyalty is being looked at rather carefully,and both of Mowbray's concerns have been specifically addressed. Of course, this is the theory and the practice may be different. But without actual incidents to support his case, this is mere hand-wringing, not actual criticism.

But Mowbray goes on:

    "Once it's the Iraqi people and not the US or the UN calling the shots, former Baathists are not likely to get favorable treatment.

    Nor should they. Of the two million former Baath Party members, only 15,000 - 20,000 of them were purged by Bremer's order last spring. So the people who were members only to get a job were left unscathed."

Now this is a point worth noting. If the Coalition is still planning to turn power over to the Iraqis at the end of June, it does seem odd that this re-baathification could not wait another two months.

I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Mowbray and usually find myself agreeing with him. I am willing to be convinced that my initial sense that the change in policy is for the better was mistaken. But so far, I have nothing but suspicion and speculation to go on. Until further evidence against Ambassador Bremer's policy is forthcoming, count me as a non-anti-re-baathificationist.

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