#3

De-Baathification

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Former Iraqi soldiers protest in Baghdad in 2003

Former Iraqi soldiers protest in Baghdad in 2003

The decision to purge members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party was made by the very same neoconservatives in the Pentagon who cherry-picked bits of intelligence to justify their case for invading Iraq. To them, it would be a definitive statement of victory, akin to de-Nazification after World War II, and they dispatched viceroy L. Paul Bremer III to Baghdad with the edict in his briefcase. He issued it on his fourth day in Iraq, over the objections of the CIA station chief. Written with input from Ahmad Chalabi and other exiles who promised that U.S. troops would be greeted with flowers, Coalition Provisional Authority Order No. 1 didn’t just ban high-level Baathists from top government jobs. It prevented tens of thousands of Iraqis who were low-level party members—people who had joined to avoid police harassment or secure college admission for their children—from returning to their jobs in factories, in schools, in hospitals. Unlike in postwar Germany, the government was the principal employer in Iraq. Overnight, legions of Iraqis found themselves without work and without the prospect of ever finding a decent job. Among them were 15,000 teachers. A week later, Bremer dissolved the Iraqi Army. The two decisions did more than anything else to transform the U.S. effort to rebuild the country into a bloody, chaotic mess. Faced with no future in the new Iraq, it was only natural that many of newly dispossessed would take up arms. But the neocons who led us into the war never fully thought through the consequences of their actions. 

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