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US Papers Fri: Law of Unintended Consequences
De-Ba'athification law not achieving political reconciliation; US ups releases
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 02/22/2008 01:39 AM ET
Friday brings little in the way of news from the dynamic duo of the Washington Post and The New York Times, but at least the Christian Science Monitor picks up the slack with a gander at de-Ba'athification and the push to release more prisoners.

Over there
The Monitor's Sam Dagher reports that many of the old guard of Saddam Hussein's regime are still waiting to be reinstated in the security forces, despite a new law that was passed last month designed to make reintegration easier. One such colonel from the old regime, Azzawi, is angry, Dagher writes. The Jan. 12 de-Ba'athification law is even more restrictive than the old practice, the colonel says. "The new law is twisted and incredibly unfair. I am filled with hope now more than ever that the Ba'ath Party will lead Iraq again." And he's apparently not alone. Former Ba'athists in Syria and Jordan, who the law was supposed to appeal to, have rejected the law. This new law, pushed for hard by the United States, has the potential to further polarize these guys and delay political reconciliation. Dagher reveals the differences between the draft of the law -- which U.S. officials helped write -- and the bill that passed. Originally, the bill would offer pensions to high-ranking Ba'athists and give lower-ranking members, like Azzawi, a chance to return to their jobs. This covered all employees of the various security services. The controversial de-Ba'athification commission headed by Ahmad Chalabi was to be dissolved. But the bill that became law keeps the commission and simply changes its name; those that worked in "oppressive" agencies such as general security are barred from ever getting security jobs; many mid-level Ba'athists are barred from holding jobs in the judiciary and ministries of Defense, Interior and Finance; it speaks of insuring "that the Ba'ath Party ideology, politics, and practices will never again return to power and public life in Iraq"; and it calls for "the complete cleansing of all public, semipublic, and civil society institutions as well as Iraqi society as a whole from the influence of the Ba'ath Party." Yeah, that would pretty clearly piss off former Ba'athists. Chalabi criticizes Washington for trying to "legislate reconciliation" and says it should instead promote private enterprise that would create jobs. American officials at the embassy now "hope" the law will be enacted in a way that wouldn't "alienate and embitter" former Ba'athists. The same official said the U.S. would step in if the Iraqis did do that. Way to respect sovereignty. The sticky widget is the majority Shi'ites who want justice and retribution for years of oppression. Reconciling that wish will make political reconciliation look easy.

Gordon Lubold, also of the Monitor, reports that the U.S. is releasing more and more Iraqi detainees who are no longer considered a threat, as a show of goodwill. These are the first of thousands of detainees who have been held for months or years but who have never been charged with anything. (By the way, it's ridiculous to paint this is a generous gesture; It's just wrong to detain people who aren't criminals or considered a threat.) This is a confusing story, because Lubold writes that it's a "careful balancing act for the military." Military commanders remain concerned that releasing too many too soon might undermine security, but if they're being released because they're not a threat, what's the problem? T.X. Hammes, a well-known expert and author on counterinsurgency, answers that question. "The release has to be handled very carefully because a lot of these people may be angry despite how they were treated," he says. Maybe they wouldn't be angry if they hadn't been held for months or years without being charged with anything.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

Washington Post
Charles Krauthammer, resident op-ed neo-con, pings Democrats for their trash talking of the success in Iraq. He's got a point, but some caution is warranted whenever the words "success" and "Iraq" appear in the same sentence.

New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.

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