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Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 48

The US And UK Restore Ba‘athists To Power
22 September 2003


Washington never wanted ‘regime change’. They just wanted ‘leadership change.’ As predicted in War Plan Iraq a year ago, and documented in the new anti-war book Regime Unchanged (published this month), the British and US authorities are betraying the Iraqi people and restoring Saddam’s institutions to power. Not everyone in Saddam’s Ba‘ath Party was a torturer, but every week brings new evidence that the torturers are being re-hired.

Mark Franchetti, in Baghdad, ‘CIA recruits Iraq’s feared secret police,’ Sunday Times, 21 Sept. 2003, p. 26, opening sentences: ‘American forces have launched a covert campaign to recruit former officers of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein’s infamous secret police, who were responsible for the deaths and torture of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

‘Dozens of agents are now in the pay of the Americans, who have turned to their former foes for help in hunting resistance groups responsible for daily guerrilla attacks against coalition forces. The agents are also involved in the hunt for Saddam and in identifying and tracking down Iraqis suspected of spying for Iran and Syria, the neighbouring countries most hostile to Washington.’

Franchetti quotes Mohammed Abdullah, a colonel with ten years in the Mukhabarat and eight in military intelligence: ‘We are under strict instructions not to publicise our work with the Americans, but dozens of former Mukhabarat officers have already been recruited.’

Col. Abdullah has apparently worked for the occupation forces since May. ‘A fluent English speaker, he is paid $700 a month.’ Wages for ordinary Iraqis are one-hundredth of this. May was also the month when Paul Bremer, US ruler of Iraq, publicly declared a ‘de-Ba‘athification’ order banning senior members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba‘ath party from holding office.

So, in the same month that the US occupation said that it would stop employing Saddam’s leaders, it began recruiting Saddam’s torturers and spies. Franchetti reports, ‘US officials claim all recruits from the former Mukhabarat are vetted.’ Unfortunately, he notes, vetting is tricky: ‘The Americans often find themselves forced to rely on Mukhabarat agents already working for them when selecting new recruits.’

Get the Gestapo to vet the Gestapo. Genius.

There has been no real de-Ba‘athification of Saddam’s security forces, just paper measures that hurt lower-ranking officials. Just as in Germany after the war (see Chapter 16 of Regime Unchanged for details.)

What is happening in Iraq is re-nazification.


This is the first time the ‘Mukhabarat recruitment’ story has received prominent treatment in the UK, but it was reported on the front page of the Washington Post on 24 Aug. (‘U.S. Recruiting Hussein’s Spies: Occupation Forces Hope Covert Campaign Will Help Identify Resistance’), and in the New York Times on 22 July (‘U.S. Said to Seek Help of Ex-Iraqi Spies on Iran’).

‘A senior American official said concern about Iran was driving some of the discussion about moving quickly to re-establish an intelligence service.’ ‘The officials said it was unclear to whom a new Iraqi intelligence service would report’—apart from the CIA, which is paying. (New York Times)

‘Authorities have stepped up the recruitment over the past two weeks, one senior U.S. official said, despite sometimes adamant objections by members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, who complain that they have too little control over the pool of recruits.’ (Washington Post)

‘The only way you can combat terrorism is through intelligence,’ the senior US official said. (Post) So we must hire Saddam’s terrorists to terrorise those resisting the US/UK occupation (itself a form of terrorism).

A Western diplomat: ‘There is an obvious evolution in American thinking. First the police are reconstituted, then the army. It is logical that intelligence officials from the regime would also be recruited.’ (Washington Post, 24 Aug.) Yes, very logical.

Re-nazification was evident from the very first days: ‘The American army has sacked the police chief it was working with, because he was accused of being a senior Ba‘athist and running his own mafia in the force. Major-General Hamid Uthman, who headed the police under Saddam Hussein, is the second to have tried to lead the force since the war ended. Major-General Zuhair al-Noami, who had been a deputy chief of police, resigned last week amid similar criticism.’ (Guardian, 14 May)

Saddam’s police chiefs were hired by the US, and fired under public pressure from the people of Baghdad. That’s why the US issued the de-Ba‘athification order: because of the enraged reaction of the Iraqi people to the re-nazification of their country.

Down south, in the British-occupied zone, things were not much better: in Umm Qasr, the Telegraph reported that ‘Members of the police force, currently under the supervision of the Royal Military Police, have allegedly been using “old-style techniques” to beat confessions out of those they have arrested.’ Across the southern zone of occupation, there was unhappiness among British troops over the choice of re-hired police officers, many of them former Ba‘athists. ‘They’re all murdering bastards,’ said one lieutenant at a police station in Basra, where military police officers withdrew to leave the former police in charge. (Telegraph, 16 May, p. 16.)

‘Iraq’s newly-appointed interior minister will recruit a paramilitary force composed of former Iraqi army special forces troops to pursue guerrillas, terrorists and saboteurs who are undermining the country’s stability... After having dismantled Iraq’s army in the spring, the United States is apparently now trying to retrieve the cream of Iraqi military forces to help battle anti-occupation fighters. Although the Interior Ministry will recruit elite former soldiers from Hussein’s army, none will come from military units personally loyal to him, especially not the Republican Guard or the Special Republican Guard.’ (Washington Post, 2 Sept., p. A10)

Right. Like Republican Guard commander General Hussein Jassem al-Juboori, asked by US forces on 9 May to become governor of Saddam Hussein’s home province. Interviewed by the Financial Times in late June, the General explained that he had cancelled elections in Samarra, appointed a Ba‘ath Party official as mayor, employed former soldiers as police officers, and kept former Ba‘athists on the payroll. (24 June, p. 11)

Explaining the new paramilitary force, Iyad Alawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord, an exile group favoured by the CIA and now in the Governing Council, said that ‘former members of Saddam Hussein’s four principal intelligence services and senior members of the Baath Party would not be hired but could be retained as “freelancers” to provide information.’ (Washington Post, 18 Sept., p. A01)

‘Earlier this summer, [US official Paul] Bremer dissolved [Saddam’s four intelligence agencies]... But Wafiq Samarrai, a former military intelligence chief who went into exile in 1995 and retains contacts, said U.S. officials were seeking to reconstitute them in some form. “They are trying to rebuild it very quietly,” he said.’ (Washington Post, 24 Aug., p. A01)

The torturers won’t be employed, they’ll work on a consultancy basis.

How did the US and Britain get bogged down? Why did they invade with security forces that they knew were too small to control a country of 23 million people? Because they were gambling that they would be able to use security forces that WERE big enough—the same Nazi security state that controlled Iraq for Saddam Hussein.

Donald Rumsfeld, 20 Mar.: ‘Iraqi soldiers and officers must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting for a doomed regime or do they want to survive, help the Iraqi people in the liberation of their country and play a role in a new free Iraq?’ (CNN Online, 21 Mar.) A source at the British Army’s HQ in Kuwait: ‘The plan is to keep the military largely intact to maintain the security of the country after Saddam falls.’ (Times, 22 Mar., p. 14) Major Eric Murray of the US 3rd Infantry, during the war: ‘the majority of the low-ranking POWs... may simply be set free or even converted into a post-Saddam peacekeeping force.’ (Time magazine, 24 Mar., p. 37) ‘Our plan is basically to put them into a constabulary force. We are not going to make them POWs.’—Senior US official, 18 Mar. (FT, 19 Mar., p. 4) (Material taken from Chapter 17 of Regime Unchanged.)

The regime fell apart instead of remaining stable and usable. The US and UK are having to slowly restore the core of it. Slow restoration, not ‘regime change’. The re-nazification of the security structures of Iraq. An obscenity—largely obscured by the mass media—that must be resisted.

[For further information on US & UK policies in post-war Iraq please see Regime Unchanged by Milan Rai (Pluto, September 2003).]

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