The Blogiston Post

Politics, money, and war.

Saturday, July 12

who really was a ba'ath party member?

Al-Bunnia received a sub-contract on May 30 from Bechtel for the demolition, design and construction of a bridge bypass damaged by aerial bombing. The amount of the sub-contract has not been disclosed. Engineering News Report described the sub-contract in an article Nation-Building Is Hard Work on June 9:
On May 30, Bechtel awarded its first land transportation subcontract to Al-Bunnia Trading Co., a 93-year-old Baghdad-based construction firm, to design and construct a 1.5-km bridge bypass on Highway 10 near where the Al Mat Bridge was hit in an aerial strike, leaving just one lane in place. The highway is located about 300 km west of Baghdad. The bypass is expected to take two to three weeks to complete. When finished, reconstruction work on the bridge will begin, which is expected to be a three- to six-month process. Al-Bunnia will provide field engineering services and construct the bypass. "This is what we came over to do," says Clifford G. Mumm, Bechtel's program director. "We're committed to developing a work program that maximizes use of Iraqi contractors and workers."
The Al-Bunnia family is one of several prominent and wealthy families in Iraq. But were the Al-Bunnia family members of the Ba'ath party?

Business Week slipped a rather sanitized sentence into its commentary on May 26, 2003 How to Get Iraq's Economy On the Mend
The Al-Bunnias, for instance, own what may be Iraq's largest private company, H. Mahmood Al-Bunnia & Sons Group. But their annual revenue is only around $30 million.


The Al-Bunnias and other merchant families can be tapped later for expertise in the rebuilding. Of course, all had to deal with Saddam's regime to survive. But these groups appear to be operating real businesses, not just offshoots of the state.
"Real businesses" are apparently exempt from close examination for ties to the Ba'ath party while those who simply wished to earn larger salaries and felt the only option was to join the party, have been fired en masse. This is not to excuse the excessive abuse of those who were once in power but rather calls in to question the lack of some practical and consistent application of fairness.

The New York Times on May 10, 2003 looked at some of Iraq's wealthy families in an article Iraq's Old Money Elite Vies for Stake in Rebuilding the Nation. Al-Bunnia was one of the families.
Khalil al-Bunnia, heir apparent to one of Iraq's biggest family empires, says he had to be "flexible" to thrive under Saddam Hussein.

"I have the most expensive cars in the world, and I gave 11 of them away as gifts," he said, flashing a picture of a mint-condition Rolls-Royce from the 1920's. "I want to get that one back," he added.

Mr. Bunnia is second-in-command after his father of the Bunnia industrial group. The family holdings include a major construction company, dairies, cattle farms and food companies that make canned sauces, frozen desserts, chocolates and candies. The family also holds stakes in a bank, an insurance company, a textile mill, a Pepsi bottling franchise and the Palestine Hotel, which is located in Baghdad.
So were the Al-Bunnia family Ba'ath party members? Certainly they could afford not to be but what if it turns out that they were? Is it appropriate to award a sub-contract for reconstruction to the Al-Bunnia family if they had close ties to the Ba'ath party?

Those financially less fortunate were given far fewer options. Pay offs of say a rare luxury Rolls Royce to survive Saddam Hussein's secret police sweeps was not an option the ordinary Iraqi could afford.

Resisting Truth

The United States has so far dragged its heels in quickly resolving the treatment and status of former Ba'ath party members. The message has been mixed and inconsistent. Are they all bad? Most bad, some good? Some bad, some good? Why are some Ba'ath party supporters immune from any censure while others find themselves amongst those lumped into mass firings?

The AP reports that beginning on July 19th, the US will undertake recruiting to train a new Iraqi army to replace those dismissed by Paul Bremer on May 23. Ba'ath party members, however, need not apply.
Members of the four top levels in Saddam's now-banned Baath party will not be allowed to join the new army, said Eaton, an American who will be in charge of the training.

"This is the seed of the future Iraqi armed forces,'' he told reporters. "They will be representative of all people of Iraq.''


Officers in the new army will be obliged to sign statements renouncing the Baath party, according to Walter Slocombe, a senior security and defense adviser in the U.S.-led provisional authority.


He said members of Saddam's army who had the rank of colonel or above will not be accepted in the new army. Baathist officers who reached the party's four most senior levels will not receive stipends to be paid to former servicemen starting July 15.
What of lower level members of the former military services who were Ba'ath party members with flawed character traits that surpass those of their fired superiors? Why are they given the pass? Does the US expect to weed them out thru informants? How is this any better than the very apparatus of secret evidence they are attempting to replace?

Several organizations have suggested the UN support the process of a Truth Commission similar to the ones used in South Africa and Latin America.
The [Iraqi truth] commission could explore ways of promoting reconciliation and harmony between different ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. It could also examine the role other countries have played in supporting and sustaining Saddam's rule - a form of collusion that risks being airbrushed from history. Finally, an Iraqi truth commission could serve as a potent reminder to the international community, and to Western powers in particular, of the consequences of supporting repressive rule in the Middle East.
Certainly an appearance of favoritism for some who happen to be wealthy, a pass on those with a lower profile, while others of lesser means are receiving death threats (in some cases with no justification other than someone's single word) will not play out well with the Iraqi people in the long run.

An article in MSNBC Retribution and justice - how to punish Iraqis who informed for Saddam Hussein describes a growing atmosphere of vigilante justice.
''With the blessing of God, we will start the campaign to execute the Baathist monkeys,'' reads the Arabic scrawled on a wall in Baghdad's Aden Square.
Vigilante justice may soon fill the void should the US not clearly define the process of de-Ba'athification for the Iraqi people. While it may be useful for the White House to have an "evil" enemy in the former Ba'ath party, provocative language targeting all former party members has the potential for recreating the reading of the list of names at the guillotine of the French Revolution.

When prominent wealthy families are seen to enjoy no adverse effects for their tacit engagement with the former regime of Saddam Hussein, sooner or later, the ordinary Iraqi will notice and ask "Why not him?" With no sense of justice, the law could shift into the hands of the angry and disenfranchised. It is at this point that all hope for a fututre of a self-governing Iraqi democracy could be set back for a very long time.


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