May 2003 | Alliance Internationale pour la Justice

Impunity could jeopardize the establishment of democracy in Iraq

By Françoise Brié (Head of programs, AIJ) and
Ismaïl Kamandar-Fattah (Iraqi writer)

American authorities have just declared end to "major combat operations" in Iraq. One can easily imagine the numerous risks implied by the current political situation in Iraq. The first months will be essential in the evolution of the country towards democracy, and the designation of the members and the teams in charge of the future Iraqi administration.

Today, the obvious lack of vigilanc e concerning certain issues can seriously threaten the future stability of Iraq and the security of its population. In the current chaos and power vacuum, new obstacles are building on the already complex issue of establishing the future Iraqi authority.

Recent events in many cities such as Mosul, Fallujda, Tikrit, Ramadi and in some areas of Baghdad raise questions that require careful analysis. All four cities were strongholds of Saddam Hussein's regime and its tribal and confessional rule.

The perfect organisation of the demonstrations over the past weeks leads us to believe that Baathist leaders still control a chain of command. That can only lead to serious trouble if efficient measures are not taken so as to neutralize the actions of the supporters of the darkest years of Iraqi history. Demonstrators should not hide their identity and, for some of them, their responsibility in crimes, behind anti-American slogans. Pressure has been used like at the heyday of the former regime's propaganda, as proven by the presence of families and children in the demonstrations.

What message is also trying to be sent to the Iraqi population when portraits of Saddam Hussein are also displayed? What would have been the reaction of WWII victims and German democrats if portraits of Hitler had been brandished in Germany or England after the second World War?

These people do not feel threatened at all. And they act all the more easily because some of them believe or want us to believe that the Rais and his sons are not dead. Thus, Saddam Hussein's first wife, who came back to Iraq from Syria, was offered asylum by a tribe leader in the Mosul area. Elsewhere, Saddam's Fedayin have taken control of a building and terrorized its occupants until the intervention of the American troops alerted by the local population. Former prisoners who tried to keep documents concerning the detention centres were threatened several nights in a row. More serious and following the same logic was the assassination of Shiite leader Abdel Madjid Al Khoei by a group from Nadjaf certainly infiltrated by Baathist criminals.

These events are very worrying but they are also symptomatic of an unanticipated and unclear vision of the policy towards those officials often involved in the heinous crimes of the former regime.

It is extremely shocking for the Iraqi population to see the people in charge of the civil and military intelligence services, the militias and Saddam's Fedayin, important Baath party or military leaders, as well as people at the head of departments of the former administration, still acti ng in total impunity and enjoying total freedom.

Events such as the recent ones or even more serious ones may occur if nothing is done to disarm those who live among the population and often use the need for protection from looters as an argument to keep their weapons.

In this context, Baathist leaders must be arrested and brought to court. The establishment of democracy, of freedom of opinion and speech in a country such as Iraq does not mean freedom and impunity for many criminals of the former regime, who are still a source of insecurity and instability, as in 1991 and 1992. One should also have in mind what happened after the exodus in 1991 and the difficulties encountered by the Kurdish refugees who returned to their regions of origin during the operation Provide Comfort. Dressed in civilian clothes, Baath party militiamen were spreading terror during the spring of 1991, even after the withdrawal of the Iraqi army. In cities such as Dohuk, they prevented the people from returning to their homes. During 1992, throughout Kurdistan, supposedly beyond the regime's control, many aid operations were disturbed by agents of the regime, asked to sabotage them and to take the lead of hostile demonstrations or to control the population.

While hoping that the questions surrounding the fate of Saddam Hussein and his sons will be answered, and if an ad hoc International Criminal Court is to be created for the trial of the regime's leaders, why give the impression or make the public opinion believe and mostly the Iraqis believe that only 55 main figures are wanted? Several thousands of other people directly took part in the crimes. It would be revolting to see them remain free and return to their positions within the administration as if hundreds of thousands of their victims had never exis ted. This could lead to great resentment among the population, leading to an undesirable climate of revenge and violence.

Imprisoning the hundreds of thousands Iraqis or more who were forced to join the Baath party cannot be the solution, but it is important not to succumb hypnosis and amnesia which would lead to believe that all the Iraqis, victims and torturers, members of the Resistance and regime henchmen alike, are all equal for the sake of reconstructing the State and the country. How can one imagine establishing democracy in Iraq without neutralizing a party that was involved in so many crimes and wars and that is the incarnation of the worst totalitarianism? There will be no democracy in Iraq until the total dismemberment of the Baath party.

Similarly, the presence of the Khalq Mujaheddin, who were used by Saddam Hussein's regime against Iran and duri ng the repression of the 1991 uprising, can only be a factor of instability for the next Iraqi government. It will also have to be totally dismantled in order for Iraq to establish good relations with its neighbours.

A meeting of the opposition is supposed to draw up the list of the participants to upcoming meeting on the future of Iraq. One should listen to the demands of the victims, not to those of the former regime's collaborators and torturers. It is urgent both to know where the tens of thousands of missing persons and to find the persons directly involved in the most serious crimes. Democracy cannot be a synonym of impunity.

In the future, in France, in Europe and in the Arab countries, utmost vigilance will be necessary towards the groups of former agents or sympathisers of Saddam Hussein's regime and ultra-nationalists who will try, under an anti-American pretext, to hinder the efforts of the Iraqis all the more complex on the path to the reconstruction of the country and of its rule of law.

Is it normal that the fall of such a brutal tyrant raises so little emotion? How can such an important event be given so little importance in comparison to images of looting, which are certainly appalling, but which are very secondary compared to the hundreds of thousands of victims of Saddam Hussein?

The French public opinion should have a different point of view on Iraq, based on an essential factor that is too often forgotten: the quest of the Iraqi people to recover a dignity flouted for over thirty years.

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