Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Gesture Towards Ba’athists

The Saudi daily, Al-Watan, carries a story today on a gesture of ‘kindness’ by Ayad Allawi’s party towards the family of a top ranking Saddam official. The house in Al-Harthia neighborhood that used to belong to Muhammad Dhiyab Al-Ahmad (ex-Minister of Interior, appointed commander of one of four military sectors during the war, no. 29 on 55 Most Wanted List, in Coalition custody since July 8, 2003) was returned by the Iraqi National Accord party to his son, Duraid. Al-Ahmad’s son is quoted saying that “[top INA leader] Adnan Al-Janabi had emphasized the concern of Allawi’s list in safeguarding the rights of all Iraqis irrespective of political affiliations.”

Al-Ahmad in a wartime press conference; not of the "touchy-feely" wing of the Ba'ath Party

Adnan Abdul-Mun’im Rashid Al-Janabi is an interesting character. His is the nominal head of the Janabi (or Janabat) tribe that are concentrated on the western bank of the Euphrates River around Jurf Al-Sakhr. This tribe is mostly responsible for the moniker given to that region: triangle of death, where the insurgency is heaviest, and bloodiest, to the south of Baghdad. Adnan Al-Janabi doesn’t wield much influence among his kin; he is urbane and married to a Shia lady from the Naqib family of Karbala. He is also a ‘technocrat’ who used to represent Iraq at OPEC in Vienna, Austria.

But he is also a bit more ‘associated’ with the ancient regime: he was head of the Oil and Energy Committee in Saddam’s ‘rubber-stamp’ National Assembly. The name ‘Adnan Janabi’ has surfaced in the latest installment of the Volker Report as a person who had received some of those infamous ‘oil coupons’ from the dictator. A source in Iraq’s Energy Commission that oversees the Oil Ministry has confirmed to me that this is indeed one and the same person. Adnan Al-Janabi’s brother, Khalid, used to be the head of Saddam’s Presidential Office.

Al-Janabi: ex-member of the Ba'athist nomenklatura

Al-Janabi was first contacted by the CIA as a ‘tribal leader’ in the early days after liberation, according to an Iraqi source familiar with the encounter. He then became a minister of state in Allawi’s cabinet, and ran on Allawi’s slate in the last elections. He also served as the deputy head of the constitutional writing committee in the National Assembly. Al-Janabi is now the seventh candidate from the top for Allawi’s list in Baghdad Province. And Secretary Condi Rice met with him on Nov. 11, 2005 in his capacity as a ‘prominent Sunni Arab.’

This news story about returning property in Baghdad (which probably belonged to the Iraqi state in the first place; Al-Ahmad is from Mosul) and the background information on Al-Janabi is important because the Higher National Commission for De-Ba’athification has just issued three lists with a total of 86 names of ex-regime functionaries who are not allowed by law to run for office, and whose names are on various electoral lists. These include Al-Janabi, who is being disbarred over the oil coupons he had received and that fall under “enriching oneself from the ex-regime’s largesse” clause. There is supposedly a fourth list with 60 names also pending release, according to published press reports citing Ali Faisal Al-Lami, Director General of Executive Coordination at the De-Ba’athification Commission. So far, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, the body that oversees the elections, has not officially replied.

[Disclaimer: I was a pro-bono advisor to the Higher National Commission for De-Ba’athification and helped set it up in February 2004. I am very supportive of its work.]

People like Adnan Al-Janabi are too tarnished by past association with Saddam’s regime, and should not be given positions of authority in a new, democratic Iraq. Or else, they do silly things like being nice and generous to a man who was in charge, as interior minister, over the General Security Directorate—Saddam’s sprawling bureaucracy of thugs and murderers. Maybe a more reasonable gesture would have been handing the house to one of the tens of thousands of families that Saddam had deported to Iran and whose property was confiscated.

Allawi’s list has several other people on its roster who are being fingered-out by the De-Ba’athification Commission. Today, Allawi’s people responded by saying that this purging is reminiscent of what the Iranian mullahs do in their own country by disbarring reformers from running in elections. They are hinting that this purging effort is being waged by the rival United Iraqi Alliance list that is dominated by parties beholden to Iran. Allawi’s people also leveled the accusation that Adil Abdul-Mahdi (ex-Minister of Finance under Allawi, and current Vice-President of Iraq) was a Ba’athist in his past, and thus should be purged too. This is true, but then Abdul-Mahdi became a Maoist and then gradually found his way to religion, becoming a top leader in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Abdul-Mahdi is a leading contender for the job of Iraq’s next Prime Minister.

Ali Al-Lami, who moonlights as an aide to Ahmad Chalabi, should take a close look at the name Muzahim Al-Kan’an, or Muzahim Al-Timeemi, the first candidate on Chalabi’s electoral list for Basra Province. Al-Kana’an was appointed by British forces as the first governor of Basra in April 2003, and qualifies for disbarment under de-Ba’athification regulations. [For the record, I like Muzahim Al-Kana’an, and he is a friend. But a Ba’athist is a Ba’athist, and the law is clear on the issue. He shouldn’t be allowed to run.]

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