Monday, March 24, 2003

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WHY THE BAATHIST RESISTANCE MAY BE A GOOD THING: One piece of evidence cited as proof that Operation Iraqi Freedom is running into roadblocks is that forces other than the Republican Guard are resisting coalition troops. Two AP reports -- here and here -- stress the role of the Baathist party militia in resisting the U.S. military. Clearly, these forces could lead to more urban combat, which is something no one wants.

Now, this could certainly drag out the war. Perversely, in could make the peace much easier to win.

Here's the logic: the Baath Party has ruled Iraq for about thirty-five years. In both its organization and tactics, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Stalinist parties. David Brooks, writing back in November 2002, stresses this point:

"The Arab Socialist Baath party, or ABSP, developed internal security and intelligence networks and even theoretical journals to develop party dogma. From the first, party statements were marked by a highly charged ideological style, which separated the world into the party of pure good (the Baathists themselves) and the party of pure evil (just about everyone else). As Tariq Aziz, a longtime party leader, noted in the 1980s, 'The ABSP is not a conventional political organization, but is composed of cells of valiant revolutionaries. . . . They are experts in secret organization. They are organizers of demonstrations, strikes, and armed revolutions. . . . They are the knights of the struggle.'

Once in power, the party behaved, in some respects, as Leninist parties do everywhere. It built a parallel party structure on top of the normal government bureaucracy to enforce loyalty and conformity. It established its own army, in addition to the regular Iraqi army, and its own intelligence service, which at first was given the otherworldly name the Apparatus of Yearnings. Ambitious young people were compelled to join the party if they hoped to rise, or even study abroad. Leaving the Baath party to join another political group remains in Iraq a crime punishable by death." (emphasis added).

Think that Brooks is some uninformed Westerner? Click here for Kanan Makiya's more pungent version of the same point.

So, a crucial part of postwar reconstruction in Iraq will be the de-Baathification of the country. Unless Baath activists are identified and purged from positions of power, ordinary Iraqis will fear speaking their minds. However, such purges are notoriously difficult to implement. Occupying forces often lack either the stomach or the energy to take the necessary actions. Because the party is embedded into Iraqi society, even the best efforts to remove Baath loyalists will be incomplete.

However, the Baathists can facilitate this task by resisting oncoming U.S. forces with force of arms. Instead of laboring to identify party loyalists after the war is over, these people are self-identifying during the combat phase, making it more likely they will be killed or treated as prisoners of war. [Yeah, but why are they doing this?--ed. The Baathists probably know they're not well-loved by either the Americans or the Iraqis they've subjugated. Even if it might be difficult to root all of them out during the postwar reconstruction phase, each individual Baathist can't like his/her odds of escaping unharmed]

The fewer Baathists that are around after the war is over, the easier it will be to rebuild Iraqi society in a manner compatible with the principles of liberal democracy. And the more that Baathist militias and party leaders resist during the war, the fewer Baathists there will be after the war.

Again, this benefit must clearly be weighed against the significant cost of more urban warfare. However, it is a clear and tangible benefit.

posted by Dan on 03.24.03 at 08:24 PM