Gordon MacMillan,  International,  Iraq,  Stateside

Iraq to reinstate 20,000 Saddam era officers

The New York Times reports that the Iraqi military is to reinstate 20,000 Saddam Hussein-era army officers who were kicked out in 2003 in what was probably the single dumbest thing that Paul Bremer and the Republicans did in Iraq.

The order to disband the Iraqi army, known as the infamous Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 2, has since been blamed for much of the violence and gave rise to the insurgency.

Sure hindsight is great, but you didn’t need to be a military genius to workout that kicking large numbers armed and trained men onto the streets was not going to help build a stable state. It was at the time rightly opposed by senior British military personnel.

If Bremer and the CPA had kept the army in place and paid them there might still have been an insurgency, but the levels of violence and its duration might have been a different story. It could have led to fast exit by the coalition that everyone who supported the toppling of Saddam had hoped for (around here at least).

The Iraqi defence ministry said the officers would be reinstated as of Sunday. These guys are literally last in the queue. After the CPA disbanded the army over fears of Baath party influence it has taken years to put something back together and army officers have remained purged despite other former Baathists being allowed into government roles in 2008.

But Bremer and company didn’t really do advice. And CPA Order Number 2 was just one of many moments of idiocy that he and his band of jobbing Republican party hacks engaged in whilst running the CPA.

The same dud headed thinking infected just about everything it did in Iraq from education, to health to industry and to security. Anyone who has read Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s excellent ‘Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone’ will be familiar with so many more examples.

News of the reinstatement comes just a week before the March 7 parliamentary elections and some are wondering whether the move is timed to pump up votes for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. You think.

It may have helped persuade a popular Sunni political coalition, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front led by Saleh al-Mutlak, to backtrack on a decision to pull out of Iraq’s parliamentary elections over concerns that Shiite parties have rigged the vote against secular and Sunni candidates.

Political expediency aside it is a move that’s long over due. If it leads to some reconciliation in what is still a fractious Iraq then all the better.

“It may have helped persuade a popular Sunni political coalition, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front led by Saleh al-Mutlak…”