Notes on the New Iraq

A reading: The New Yorker (Nov. 15 edition) has a harrowing piece from Jon Lee Anderson, its principal Iraq correspondent, on the consequences of the U.S. decision to try to break up the Baath Party and the Iraqi Army. I think a lot of this stuff has been said before — that abolishing the party and disbanding the army simply through Iraq’s best and brightest, on one hand, and most desperate and well-armed on the other — into the street with little to do but oppose or fight the occupation. But he presents a couple of tragic examples of what happened to individual Baathists in the wake of "de-Baathification," suggests how poorly the purge program was run, and collects some interesting opinions on the ground from U.S. military and civilian officials who questioned the purge when it was ordered.

"The order had an immediate effect. … ‘We had a lot of directors general of hospitals who were very good, and, with de-Baathification, we lost them and their expertise overnight,’ [Stephen Browning, the U.S. official in charge of Iraq’s Ministry of Health] told me. At the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which was another of his responsibilities, ‘we were left dealing with what seemed like the fifth string. . . . Nobody who was left knew anything.’

"An American special-forces officer stationed in Baghdad at the time told me that he was stunned by Bremer’s twin decrees. After the dissolution of the Army, he said, ‘I had my guys coming up to me and saying, "Does Bremer realize that there are four hundred thousand of these guys out there and they all have guns?" They all have to feed their families.’ He went on, ‘The problem with the blanket ban is that you get rid of the infrastructure; I mean, after all, these guys ran the country, and you polarize them. So did these decisions contribute to the insurgency? Unequivocally, yes. And we have to ask ourselves: How well did we really know how to run Iraq? Zero.’ "

Even if you’ve been paying attention, Anderson’s article is helpful in explaining how our whole Iraq show has fallen apart.