Book Review: Lessons of the Iraqi De-Ba’athification Program for Iraq’s Future and the Arab Revolutions

Lessons of the Iraqi De-Ba’athification Program for Iraq’s Future and the Arab Revolutions by Dr. W. Andrew Terrill.  Published by the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. 108 pages, May 2012. 

Dr. Andy Terrill has been a thinker and educator for many years at the Army War College; he has produced many monographs focusing mainly on the Middle East.  Whenever he publishes a new booklet on the Arab world, I take notice.  His latest monograph is a scathing and scholarly critique of the impact of De-Ba’athification on the America’s efforts to stabilize Iraq, and how this controversial program can be a lesson to many Arab countries experiencing changes in regimes.  Dr. Terrill is highly critical of Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, which is justified, as De-Ba’athification wreaked havoc on Iraqi society, and deprived the country of over 50,000 professionals, technicians, and administrators.  The booklet explains how the De-Ba’athification order chaos was compounded when the process was given to Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite, who was an exile and would be discredited through the 2005 electoral process.  Chalabi’s handling of the De-Ba’athification process would smack of De-Sunnification, meaning Shiites now marginalizing Sunnis and adding fuel to the already tense sectarian fire in Iraq. 

The booklet is a quick read, and offers readers an excellent primer on Ba’athism its origins, history, and ideology.  Saddam Hussein used the ideology in support of his criminal enterprise, and not his apparatus in the service of the ideology.  This is an excellent and subtle observation by Dr. Terrill.  There were attempts to reverse the De-Ba’athification process conducted by Chalabi, and Bremer is quoted in the work as making the effort, but it was too little too late, and the marginalization of Ba’athists fueled the insurgency.  Not mentioned in detail is Bremer’s controversial order of disbanding the Iraqi Army, which placed tens of thousands of soldiers with combat training onto the street without pay. 

The end of the booklet discusses various Arab Spring countries from Egypt and Syria, to Yemen and Libya.  This is a section of the work worth reading as it demonstrates that each Arab Spring country has its own pathology, culture, elites, and idiosyncrasies.  Libya is suffering from no institutions, and three regions that were only united for a few years in the 1950s under a short-lived monarchy. In Syria, Dr. Terrill discusses the ascendancy of the Shiite Alawi minority that dominates a Sunni majority, and how the independence demonstrated by the Egyptian Army would be unthinkable in the Syrian ranks.  The booklet ends with fifteen recommendations for the U.S. Government based on what can be learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.  One aspect of Dr. Terrill’s critique which he cites from Ambassador Bremmer’s book is that the order for De-Ba’athification was ordered by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith on behalf of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  I would view this statement with skepticism, for Bremmer was Presidential Envoy and had direct access to the President, he did not need to take Mr. Feith’s order, if he had given such an order, is tantamount to a lieutenant giving orders on behalf of a Colonel to a General.  It simply does not make architectural sense. 

Dr. Terrill’s monograph is worth reading, and can be downloaded for free at  http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=1106

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De-Baathification was an Iranian war aim during the Iran-Iraq War, fulfilled by U.S. hard power and Iranian soft power by means of OIF. Interestingly enough, it was not performed in conjunction by these two powers. And it produced for Iran in many ways its now closest ally in the region.