Silas Palmer Fellow Wisam Alshaibi Provides Insight into the Historical Origins of De-ba’thification in Iraq

Tuesday, December 19, 2017
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By Wisam Alshaibi

You never know what you’ll find in the archives. I originally travelled to the Hoover Institution to work on a project related to sectarianism in Iraq. I had planned to use the Ba’th Regional Command Collection and the oral history testimonies of the Iraq Memory Foundation’s Oral History on Film Project. However, I noticed that in the Hoover holdings on Iraq, there was a collection called the Kanan Makiya Papers. Kanan Makiya is a well-known Iraqi dissident, the director of the Iraq Memory Foundation, and one of the central figures who brought the Ba’th Party collections to the Hoover Institution. The collection contained a treasure trove of documents related to the activities of the Iraqi opposition movement in the 1990s and into the 2003 occupation of Iraq. The collection also contained voluminous documentation related to the acquisition and politics of the Ba’th Party Records and the Northern Iraq Dataset. There was also documentation as to how the Oral History of Film Project was originally funded and why it was produced in the first place. In this sense, I was investigating the archive of the archives. I decided to reorient my research plans and focus on these documents.

My current research project reconstructs the history of the exiled Iraqi opposition movement and how through the 1990s, they slowly developed the ideas which would become de-ba’thification. De-ba’thification was implemented in the early days of occupied Iraq to eliminate the influence and institutional advantage of the Ba’th Party. When the Coalition Provisional Authority issued its decree to dissolve Iraq’s military, security, and intelligence institutions, nearly 400,000 Iraqis lost their jobs in an instant. This left the state without the individuals who knew how to run it on a daily basis. De-ba’thification also alienated hundreds of thousands of individuals who were armed, had military training, and were in need of work.

When the Coalition Provisional Authority issued its decree to dissolve Iraq’s military, security, and intelligence institutions, nearly 400,000 Iraqis lost their jobs in an instant.

Silas Palmer Fellow Wisam_Alshaibi
Silas Palmer Fellow Wisam Alshaibi

De-ba’thification collectivized guilt. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their jobs on the assumption that they had a deep ideological commitment to the Ba’th Party or had committed human rights abuses. The process was also an aberration from the post-Cold War era of transitional justice, as implemented in Bosnia, Kosovo, and South Africa, where it was more common to establish systematic lustration programs which would individually assess politicians’ participation in human rights abuses and other measures of integrity. My research uses the Kanan Makiya Papers to reconstruct the story, from the perspective of the Iraqi opposition, of how a particular rendering of de-ba’thification was made available to the Coalition Provisional Authority over other models of transitional justice.

I had a most thrilling experience at the Hoover Institution. Every day in the Reading Room was an adventure. I came to resurrect dead history, and I feel that I have achieved this goal, thanks to the Silas Palmer Fellowship. I owe a special note of gratitude to Haedar Haadi, who manages the Ba’th Party collections. He made himself available to me at a moment’s notice and even to this day he checks in to make sure I have what I need.

Wisam Alshaibi is a doing a PhD in Historical-Sociology at the Department of Sociology UCLA, where he is also a fellow at UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies.