October 31, 2008

Judge Discusses Debaathification in Iraq

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Judge Ra’id Juhi Hamadi al-Saedi lectured about the vast problems with the debaathification committee in Iraq yesterday afternoon. Juhi is Cornell Law School’s first Clark Middle Eastern Fellow; he is known for indicting Saddam Hussein in 2004.
Debaathification, which began with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, refers to the process of ridding Iraq of all Baath supporters; in other words, all Saddam Hussein supporters.
Before Juhi explained to his audience of nine what is wrong with the current debaathification committee in Iraq, he stressed the importance of understanding the history and culture within Iraq — his homeland. “How [can we] create stability and peace in any country if [we] don’t know about the country’s background?” he asked. [img_assist|nid=33156|title=Judging|desc=Raid Juhe Hamadi Al-Saedi, the Clark Middle East Fellow and Chief Investigative Judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal, speaks about problems with debaathification in Iraq in Myron Taylor Hall yesterday afternoon.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
He explained the various conflicts that have been a part of the country’s composition. There is significant conflict of power and culture, between the Arabs and the Kurds and within the Arab community, between the Shias and the Sunnis. Since 1921, and until the U.S. invasion, “the minority controlled the majority,” Juhi said, referring to the Sunnis’ power over the Shias.
Juhi continued by explaining the conflict of identity within Iraq. As he said, it is a “mosaic society” made up of many minorities and conflicting cultures, making it a difficult country to rule. But until 2003, the Baath ideology had tight control on the country, making it mandatory to learn Baath strategy in school, and requiring recommendation by the Baath party to continue on to higher education.
According to Juhi, what went wrong with debaathification was the gap between what was originally ordered and what was actually carried out. The law instilled to eliminate the Baaths was “a goal to create a new philosophy of forgiveness and acceptance — a very great goal,” Juhi explained.
He then continued to explain why the goal of debaathification and the result of debaathification became so different.
Paul Bremmer, who created this program for debaathification, had the intention to fire 20,000 people, but as soon as the committee of debaathification was created, it fired half a million people.
“How can you fire so many people and not offer any economic support or jobs? You need to expect chaos,” Juhi emphasized.
The debaathification only strengthened the split between Shias and Sunnis since most high level Baaths fired were Sunnis. With no economic or social support, Juhi said, “Sunnis are going to jump at the chance to fight” to regain some power. It is all an economic problem, he explained; the Sunnis just want to keep their jobs and support their families.
In addition to the loss of jobs among the Sunnis, Juhi mentioned two additional results of debaathification: the problem of the 5 million refugees in and out of Iraq, and the open door that the Sunni-Shia tension has created for Al Qaeda and Iran to “jump inside Iraq” and further increase the chaos.
Juhi offered two essential changes to improve the debaathification efforts in Iraq. First, he emphasized the need to create deadlines. If you don’t create deadlines, it will no longer be considered “transitional justice.”
“There can’t be transitional justice forever,” he said.
Finally, he explained the need for more transparency within the workings of the committee in order to reduce corruption and inaccuracies.
After the lecture, the small audience had the opportunity to talk to Juhi while enjoying refreshments.
Cathy Tio law found the lecture extremely informative. “I would say that before hand, nothing made sense. Now that he explained all this background about the country, everything in the news makes a lot more sense,” she said.
Juhi served as the chief investigating judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal from 2004 to 2006. He plans to remain at Cornell through Spring 2010.