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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Mon: Meet the Ba'th Founder
VP Asks Iraqis who Reject the "Political Process" to Leave the Country
By AMER MOHSEN 07/06/2008 3:07 PM ET
Ghassan Sharbil, the editor-in-chief of al-Hayat, has built up a reputation as one of the best interviewers in the Arab press. His long interviews with key political figures are famous for their level of detail and for broaching sensitive topics (with the exception of the politics of Gulf monarchies, who finance Sharbil’s publication.)

Sharbil has begun publishing a new series of interviews, this time focusing on the (understudied) person of Michel ‘Aflaq, the founder of the Ba’th party and one of the veritable godfathers of Arab nationalism. The first interviews in the series are with ‘Aflaq’s daughter, Razan, who discussed her father’s relationship with Saddam, his views on Ba’thist infighting and the history of the Ba’th Party. The coming interviews will be with activists and friends who knew ‘Aflaq closely during his years of activism in 1940s Syria, the high tide of Ba’thism in the 1950s, and his escape to Iraq after a Ba’thist split (and coup) in the 1960s (Razan still refers to the Syrian Ba’thi crew that took power in 1966 as “a sectarian clique.”)

The interview revealed some interesting aspects of ‘Aflaq’s personal and family life. Razan ‘Aflaq insisted that the relationship between Saddam Husain and her father (labeled as the “founding father” by the Iraqi Ba’thists) was one of mutual respect. During ‘Aflaq’s stay in Baghdad, she claimed, the founder of the Ba’th party lived a modest life, relying on a pension and amassing no fortunes. ‘Aflaq was born a Christian Orthodox, and was largely secular, but rumors abound after his death in Baghdad that he had converted to Islam. Razan neither confirmed nor denied that story, contenting to say that the Ba’th Nationalist Leadership announced that he died a Muslim. Razan made no mention of criticisms that her father may have made of Saddam, but when asked about Saddam’s liquidations of top Ba’this in the 1970s, she simply stated that her father – in Paris at the time – was “pained” by the news, and that he “rejected the style of liquidations and executions.”

‘Aflaq died in Baghdad in 1989, and received a magnanimous funeral attended by Saddam and the entire Ba’thi government. His statue in Baghdad was reportedly destroyed following the US invasion in 2003.

Also in al-Hayat, the paper relayed speeches by several top Iraqi leaders in a ceremony held for the 5th anniversary of the assassination of the SIIC leader, Muhammad Baqir al-Hakeem. Among the speakers was the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who gave an optimistic assessment of the situation in Iraq, claiming that sectarian war has been avoided and that “the siege of Baghdad” intended by “the terrorists” was broken by the Iraqi Security Forces. The current leader of the SIIC, ‘Abd al-‘Azeez al-Hakeem called for the expulsion of the anti-Iranian Mujahideen Khalq organization from Iraq; and vice-President Mahmud al-Mashhadani demanded that those who reject the current “political process” leave the country!

In other news, Az-Zaman said that a new wave of appointments in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are likely to follow the model of sectarian “quotas” that have plagued the current Iraqi government since its founding. According to the paper, “the major parties” in the government have presented a list of candidates for several positions, adding that the list is likely to be approved, amid some protests from opposition parties. An unnamed source in the Ministry told the paper that some embassies are complaining that the candidates (especially for top positions) do not conform with the standards and qualification required by the Ministry.

Lastly, Kull al-‘Iraq quoted the government spokesman, ‘Ali al-Dabbagh, who said that the state might prosecute the al-Jazeera news channel after it showed footage that - it claimed – depicted Iraqi Security forces executing unarmed men in Karbala four months ago. Al-Dabbagh claimed that the footage (shown on al-Jazeera on Thursday) was not taken in Iraq, but shows Iranian Policemen executing five Afghani men accused of rape and murder. The issue remains murky, with al-Dabbagh’s “evidence” of misrepresentation being that “the film was being disseminated in Iran, not Iraq,” adding that showing the allegedly fake footage indicates “premeditation to harm Iraq” on the part of al-Jazeera. Ironically, the government cannot prosecute the channel in Iraqi courts, because the channel was officially closed and banned from the country several years ago!


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