On March 6 at a conference in Baghdad of tribal sheikhs Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for reconciliation with former Baathist military personnel. He said that as long as these former regime members were focused on the future and not the past they would have a place in society. This followed a months worth of activities where the government was attempting to get Saddam era Army officers to return from exile and be integrated back into Iraq.
At a meeting in the capital for Tribal Support Council members Prime Minister Maliki called for reconciliation with Baathists soldiers. He said that they made mistakes in the past, but now was the time to forgive and forget, and close that chapter in Iraq’s history. A Sunni parliamentarian from Ilyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List said that the Prime Minister’s statements were needed, but more importantly, they needed to be backed up by action. That’s what the government was attempting to do the previous month.
In February 2009 Baghdad made several overtures to former soldiers from Saddam’s army that were living in foreign countries. This began with dialogue with former officers in both Jordan and Baghdad. The government was offering those below colonel jobs in the new Army, while those of a higher rank would receive pensions. According to Asharq al-Awsat this offer was open to any soldiers except members of Saddam’s Fedayeen. The Defense Ministry said they were preparing Iraq’s embassies and attaché offices across the region to accept whatever soldiers wanted to return, and set up a special committee to help integrate them. In the Baghdad meeting American and British officials were also involved, and according to the Saudi Al-Qatan paper, a delegation of Americans met with former officers in Amman, Jordan as well. The Iraqi armed forces have already taken in over 96,000 soldiers from Saddam’s army, so there was a precedent for this policy.
The motivations behind the move seemed to cause a bit of controversy in Iraq. In mid-January 2009 then Vice President elect Joe Biden visited Iraq. While there he told the Maliki government that they needed to do more on political reconciliation. A few weeks later Maliki, while meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, responded by saying that the U.S. could no longer pressure Iraq, and that reconciliation was almost complete. Al-Hayat later reported that the outreach to soldiers was in fact done under pressure from the Americans.
While there were initial meetings with some officers, things seemed to quickly turn sour. In the beginning of February a former general met with Iraqi, American and British officials in Baghdad about soldiers returning. The former head of the Army also called on soldiers to go back to Iraq from abroad, and an ex-Republican Guard general said that the government was hoping 23,000 officers would come back. By mid-February however former officers were saying that they would not take up Maliki’s offer, and urged others to follow suit. They said they would only reconcile with the government if they got rid of the DeBaathification process, and paid them back pay for their years in exile. Discussions seemed to end at that point.
Iraq’s Army has already taken in thousands of former soldiers, but there are still some recalcitrant ones living in foreign countries. The latest outreach to those appeared to have been the result of Vice President Biden’s urging, showing that the U.S. still has pull within Iraq even though it is reducing troop levels. The future of the initiative is unknown however. What looked to be a promising start quickly turned into rejection by the old officers. Still, the military has been one of the few Iraqi institutions to take in members of the old regime in large numbers, although ironically it is prohibited under the Accountability and Justice Law (12) that replaced the DeBaathification order.
Agence France Presse, "Iraq parliament fails to elect new speaker," 2/8/09
Associated Press, “Biden Visits Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan,” 1/12/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “Ministerial plan to receive former army officers,” 2/15/09
Azzaman, “Former army generals snub government’s offer to return,” 2/19/09
International Center for Transitional Justice, “Briefing Paper: Iraq’s New ‘Accountability and Justice’ Law,” 1/22/08
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Government Invites Former Army Officers Back,” 2/18/09
- "Officers Who Served Under Saddam To Rejoin Iraqi Army," 2/7/09
Reid, Robert, “Iraqi PM reaches out to Saddam supporters,” Associated Press, 3/6/09
Roads To Iraq Blog, “American delegation met with former Iraqi army officers,” 2/20/09
- “Another failing reconciliation attempt,” 2/14/09
Santora, Marc and Cowell, Alan, “With Swipe at U.S., Iraq Builds ties to French,” New York Times, 2/11/09
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/09