Conclusions: De‑Ba’athification

Introduction and key findings……………………………………………………….58
The Report of the Iraq Inquiry
Introduction and key findings
1. This Section contains the Inquiry’s analysis, conclusions and lessons in relation
to the de‑Ba’athification of the Iraqi public sector, the evidence for which is set out in
Section 11.1.
Key findings
• Early decisions on the form of de‑Ba’athification and its implementation had a
significant and lasting negative impact on Iraq.
• Limiting de‑Ba’athification to the top three tiers of the party, rather than extending
it to the fourth, would have had the potential to be far less damaging to Iraq’s
post‑invasion recovery and political stability.
• The UK’s ability to influence the decision by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)
on the scope of the policy was limited and informal.
• The UK chose not to act on its well‑founded misgivings about handing over the
implementation of de‑Ba’athification policy to the Governing Council.
2. Although the US and UK had discussed and recognised the need for it,
de‑Ba’athification was one of many areas of post‑invasion activity in Iraq for which
objectives and plans had not been agreed between the two Governments before the
invasion (see Section 6.5). Consequently, no detailed preparations for implementation
of a shared de‑Ba’athification policy were put in place.
3. The UK lacked the deep understanding of which levels of the Iraqi public sector were
highly politicised that would have been desirable in developing a de‑Ba’athification
policy, but did recognise that party membership was likely to have been a matter of
expediency rather than conviction for many Iraqi citizens. Since the UK’s planning
assumption was that a large proportion of the Iraqi civil service would continue to
function under new leadership post‑invasion, the main UK concern was that a light‑touch
de‑Ba’athification process should protect administrative capacity for the reconstruction
of the country.
4. Measures to prevent a resurgence of the Ba’ath Party were important both to ordinary
Iraqi citizens and to Iraqi politicians. The UK recognised the psychological importance
of reassuring both groups that the Ba’athists would not return to power, but did not
fully grasp the extent to which de‑Ba’athification might have consequences for the
relationship between the Shia and Sunni communities. The Coalition did not have a plan
to deal with the tensions which inevitably rose as result. This placed at risk the UK’s
objective that Iraq would become a stable and united state.
5. Recognition of the symbolic importance of de‑Ba’athification is clear from its inclusion
in General Franks’ Freedom Message of 16 April 2003, and from the fact that it was the
subject of the first Order issued by the CPA in May 2003.
11.2 | Conclusions: De‑Ba’athification
6. The UK did have advance sight of the text of the Freedom Message, which “disestablished” the Ba’ath Party, but did not succeed in having its drafting changed
to reflect concerns raised by lawyers in the FCO.
7. In the post‑conflict phase, Secretary Rumsfeld and the Department of Defense
in Washington, and Ambassador Bremer in Baghdad, became the driving forces of
de‑Ba’athification policy.
8. The UK’s absence from formal decision‑making within the CPA (see Section 9.8)
meant that its input to discussion of de‑Ba’athification policy in May 2003 was dependent
on the influence of one particular individual: Mr John Sawers, the Prime Minister’s
Special Representative to Iraq. The key policy choice at that point was centred on
whether the top three, or the top four, tiers of the Ba’ath Party should be brought
into scope.
9. The CPA Order No.1 signed by Ambassador Bremer differed from the UK policy
position on the best approach to de‑Ba’athification. In particular, the decision to bring
the fourth tier1 of Ba’ath Party members into scope – which increased the number of
individuals potentially affected from around 5,000 to around 30,000 – was considered
by the UK to be disproportionate and likely to deprive Iraqi institutions of much‑needed
10. The Inquiry agrees with the UK’s view, and considers that limiting de‑Ba’athification
to the top three tiers would have had the potential to be far less damaging to Iraq’s
post‑invasion recovery and political stability.
11. As Order No.1 was being finalised, UK officials did not propose any attempt at
Ministerial level to influence the policy via Washington. The effect of such an approach
may in any case have been limited as significant policy choices appear to have been
made before Ambassador Bremer deployed to Iraq. Not unreasonably, Mr Sawers
advised against lobbying Washington in the face of a strong desire by the Iraqi
Leadership Group, comprised largely of Shia and Kurdish politicians, for a stringent
approach to de‑Ba’athification.
12. However, the UK’s informal acceptance of Order No.1 helped to set the tone for its
relationship with the CPA which persisted throughout the lifespan of the organisation.
Informal consultation with the UK, usually through Mr Sawers and subsequently
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, became the norm.
13. The Order had consequences. It made the task of reconstructing Iraq more difficult,
both by reducing the pool of Iraqi administrators and by adding to the pool of the
unemployed and disaffected, which in turn fed insurgent activity.
1 Down to the rank of Group Member.
The Report of the Iraq Inquiry
14. After Order No.1 was signed, the UK, having recognised the Order’s potential to
create a pool of disaffected individuals and to deny posts to effective public servants,
urged a pragmatic approach to de‑Ba’athification in its contacts with the US, including
at the highest levels, but with little practical effect.
15. In November 2003, the CPA decided to hand responsibility for implementing
de‑Ba’athification to the Governing Council (GC). There were misgivings about the
decision in the FCO but, rather than act on them, it relied on assurances that the policy
was to be implemented flexibly.
16. Although it would have been challenging to create, a more independent oversight
body than the GC would have been more appropriate. The decision to hand over
responsibility for implementation to a political body of this nature was, in the Inquiry’s
view, a mistake which left a critically important area of policy outside the control of the
CPA, with damaging consequences.
17. One Iraqi interlocutor suggested to the Inquiry that it would have been preferable for
judges to preside over the process but also recognised that the Iraqi court system was
not in a fit state to take on additional responsibilities in 2003.
18. As soon as it was appointed, the High National de‑Ba’athification Commission,
steered by Dr Ahmed Chalabi and Mr Nuri al‑Maliki, took action to toughen the
impact of de‑Ba’athification. Both officials and military commanders recognised
almost immediately that such action was likely to generate further instability, but the
CPA’s decision to hand over responsibility to the GC left the UK unable to intervene.
The UK, however, remained responsible for security in the South in the face of a
growing insecurity.
19. The enthusiasm for de‑Ba’athification felt by many Iraqi political leaders –
Dr Chalabi and Mr Maliki in particular – may well have made any policy change difficult
to achieve. This enthusiasm reflected a deep‑seated fear within the Shia community of
the resurgence of the Ba’ath Party and a return to Sunni dominance.
20. After the appointment of the Interim Transitional Government in June 2004, the
coalition’s responsibilities in Iraq shifted, but it retained considerable influence over the
development of the political process.
21. By the time of Iraq’s first post‑invasion elections, de‑Ba’athification had already
been identified as a major political issue because it put a substantial barrier in the way
of Sunni engagement with the political process. Although the UK placed a high premium
on successful and inclusive elections, attempting to remove the barriers imposed by
Order No.1 was not made a priority.
22. Increasing codification of the extent of de‑Ba’athification, in the Transitional Administrative Law and then the Iraqi Constitution, was one crucial way in which
11.2 | Conclusions: De‑Ba’athification
sectarianism was legitimised in Iraqi political culture, helping to create an unstable
foundation for future Iraqi governments.
23. Although it is difficult to arrive at a precise figure, the evidence suggests that the
impact of de‑Ba’athification was felt by tens of thousands of rank and file Ba’athists.
De‑Ba’athification continued to be identified as a major Sunni grievance and a source
of sustenance for the insurgency in Iraq as late as 2007.
24. As described in Sections 9.6 and 9.7, UK influence in Iraq and its relationship with
the Iraqi Government declined further from 2007. From that point, lacking influence,
there was very little realistic prospect of a UK‑inspired change in the approach to
25. The Inquiry concludes that early decisions on the form of de‑Ba’athification and
its implementation had a significant and lasting negative impact on Iraq.
This negative impact was soon recognised by the UK Government, but its efforts to secure a change of approach were largely ineffective. This became a persistent problem that could
be traced back to both the early failure to have a settled US/UK agreement on how
the big issues of post‑war Iraqi reconstruction would be handled and the improvised
decision‑making leading up to Order No.1.
26. After the fall of a repressive regime, steps inevitably have to be taken to prevent
those closely identified with that regime from continuing to hold positions of influence
in public life. The development of plans which minimise undesired consequences,
which are administered with justice and which are based on a robust understanding
of the social context in which they will be implemented, should be an essential part
of preparation for any post‑conflict phase. This should include measures designed to
address concerns within the wider population, including those of the victims of the old
regime, and to promote reconciliation.
27. It is vital to define carefully the scope of such measures. Bringing too many or too
few individuals within scope of measures like de‑Ba’athification can have far‑reaching
consequences for public sector capacity and for the restoration of public trust in the
institutions of government.
28. It is also important to think through the administrative implications of the measures
to be applied and the process for their implementation.
29. The potential for abuse means that it is essential to have thought‑through forms
of oversight that are as impartial and non‑partisan as possible.
30. For lessons related to the UK’s involvement in decision‑making within the CPA,
see  Section 9.8.

About AJ Layon

AJ Layon was, for 28 years, at the University of Florida College of Medicine, in the Division of Critical Care Medicine, in Gainesville, FL. For the approximately 10 years until September 2011, he was Professor and Chief of Critical Care Medicine at UF; In September of 2011 he became System Director and Co-Chairman of Critical Care Medicine in PA; this ended in 2017. He served as a Physician in the Surgical Group with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders) through 2018 and is presently an intensivist in Florida, struggling through the SARS-CoV-2 crisis. While his interests are primarily related to health care, health care reform, and ethical issues, as a citizen of our United States and our world, he will occasionally opine on issues of our "time and destiny". Follow on Twitter @ajlayon
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