FRIENDS OF BA’ATH
As soon as the war in Iraq ended, the transition to a new government began. Despite a clear goal of de-Ba’athification—akin to de-Nazification in Germany after World War II—laid out by President Bush, the State Department had other ideas. Because the Ba’athists had been in control of Iraq for thirty-five years—nearly twenty-five of which were under Saddam Hussein’s leadership—State wanted to phase out senior Ba’ath party officials from the transition government over time.
Considering some of the people at the center of U.S. efforts in Iraq, this belief should not come as a surprise.
The special envoy to Iraq, who coordinated plans for a post-Saddam Iraq until he was officially placed under the command of Paul Bremer in May 2003, was Zalmay Khalilzad—the former Unocal representative who argued for quick acceptance of the Taliban in 1996. (Although he was technically a National Security Council representative in Iraq, State strongly supported his appointment there.) Another key figure in Iraq immediately following the war was Robin Rafael, the former head of the South Asia bureau who originally sought closer ties with the Taliban, even commenting on their “wonderful senses of humor.” Rather than being banned from Foggy Bottom for their track record of extremely questionable judgment, Rafael and Khalilzad were handed two of the top positions in the selection of new leaders for a post-Saddam transition government.
Under Khalilzad’s guidance, several senior Ba’ath party officials were given plum posts in the transitional authority. The new minister of health, Dr. Ali al-Janabi, was formerly the number three official in the health ministry in Saddam’s regime. The State Department gave him a promotion to the top spot, even though he refused to renounce the Ba’ath party. State Department official Stephen Browning actually praised al-Janabi, telling the Associated Press that the new minister of health was a “Ba’ath party member who is not associated with criminal activities.” But others evidently disagreed: after a wave of protests from Iraqi doctors and nurses, al-Janabi resigned a mere ten days after accepting the appointment. Perhaps even more amazing, Rafael personally reinstated as president of Baghdad University Saddam Hussein’s personal physician, Dr. Muhammad al-Rawi. Like Dr. al-Janabi, Dr. al-Rawi was still loyal to Saddam, even refusing after the war to remove a statue of the deposed despot from the school’s grounds.
The looting and rioting that followed the end of the war, which received considerable attention in the international media, was largely coordinated by Ba’athists. According to several administration officials, significant evidence showed that the Ba’athists were behind much of the criminal unrest as well as the “vandalism” that struck strategic locations, such as the electrical grid.50 When U.S. officials were attempting to repair the grid in the aftermath of the war, the “vandals” repeatedly sabotaged the transformers, something that required a detailed knowledge of the grid, which only the senior Ba’ath party officials who previously maintained and operated the grid would have.
With Ba’athists organizing much of the disorder, the State Department’s bias toward “stability” was actually responsible for destabilizing Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
On July 9, 2002, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Iran to protest the mullah dominance of the country’s Islamist government. They were marking the third anniversary of a brutal police crackdown on peaceful protestors at Tehran University, when armed security forces stormed dormitories and beat and arrested hundreds of students.56 In the days following the 1999 incident, some fifteen thousand dissidents protested the government’s crackdown, in what the New York Times described as the largest demonstration since the fall of the shah in 1979.57 As the Iranian people increasingly decry the mullahs, they mount a demonstration each year on the anniversary of the crackdown. The 2002 demonstration came less than six months after Bush’s “axis of evil” speech; many of the protestors probably assumed that the United States would openly support them. They would have been wrong—at least concerning the State Department.
When asked at the daily press briefing on July 8, 2002, if the U.S. had a message for the Iranian protestors, State spokesman Boucher flatly replied, “No.”58 State didn’t want to offer even words of sympathy, notes an administration official, because doing so would have “angered” the Iranian mullahs.59 President Bush himself had to intervene for the U.S. to voice any support.
Later that week, on July 12, 2002, Bush issued the following statement: “We have seen throughout history the power of one simple idea: when given a choice, people will choose freedom. As we have witnessed over the past few days, the people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights, and opportunities as people around the world. Their government should listen to their hopes.”60 He concluded his statement, which State lobbied to stop, by telling the demonstrators, “As Iran’s people move towards a future defined by greater freedom, greater tolerance, they will have no better friend than the United States of America.”
Particularly revealing about State’s attitudes toward those literally risking their lives to protest for the freedoms that Americans enjoy was Boucher’s initial, cavalier response to the question at the July 8 press briefing. This was the exchange:
Question: Scheduled for tomorrow, there are supposedly going to be major demonstrations in Tehran. Does the State Department have a message for the demonstrators, given U.S. interest in this recently?
Mr. Boucher: No.
Question: You have no message?
Mr. Boucher: We don’t. We don’t.
Question: It’s supposed to be a really big demonstration.
Mr. Boucher: Cool. (Laughter)
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