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Return of the Baath Party | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Nuri al Maliki’s government offered the banned Iraqi Baath Party a chance to return to the political field as long as it renounced violence and accepted the political equation that has come about following the toppling of the former Iraqi regime that it once dominated. Maliki made his offer after four obvious facts in the Iraqi political scene had emerged:

1) The failure of the “sectarian democracy” model designed by the occupation authorities and presented as an alternative to decades of a single-party system and tyranny. It is clear that the electoral process that has taken place in Iraq over the past six years has not succeeded in normalizing the congested political situation. Rather, this process turned the mechanisms of the democratic system and multiparty competition into tools for putting a stop to sectarian conflict only to pursue it outside of the necessary framework for enacting and codifying multiparty political systems.

2) The anticipated US military withdrawal as a result of the critical security and financial crises caused by the occupation in an economic recession from which the US is now suffering and this is a fact that will definitely be reflected in the structure of internal politics in Iraq.

3) The decline in the level of violence and terrorism targeting the occupation authorities and the government it produced through two key factors: the defeat of the Al Qaeda network that has become isolated within Sunni circles and the Iraqi government reaching agreements with tribal leaders regarding the security issue in areas of sectarian violence.

4) The realisation of America’s intention to decrease Iranian influence in Iraq. This is a step that would involve opening up to political currents that oppose Iranian influence, most prominently the Baath Party known for its secular background and its hostility towards the Iranian revolution.

The issue here is related to the Baath Party with a changed structure and decreasing influence in Iraq. It is no longer the party that dominates government and the decision-making process or the party that controls all aspects of public affairs. In reality, prohibiting the Baath Party and banning its activities was one of the most impromptu and fruitless decisions taken by the US occupation just like the decision to disband the Iraqi army and the administration inherited from the previous regime.

Similarly, the Nazi Party in Germany was outlawed after World War II but there are several differences between the German and Iraqi experiences. For example, the Arab Baath Party was not established to be an authoritative party. It was established as the body of an intellectual project crystallized by a well-cultured philosophical writer, Michel Aflaq who derived his fundamental ideas from 19th century European thinkers such as Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Henri-Louis Bergson, whose works he was influenced by during his time in France. Aflaq’s early writings included ‘Fi Sabeel al Baath’ [On the Path of Revival] in which he spoke about these poignant theoretical trends that inspired him and made him one of the most prominent Arab philosophical figures, not the mastermind of one of the most horrific Arab examples of oppression and tyranny. It is difficult to link Michel Aflaq to the political regimes that were inspired by his project as it is well known that Aflaq very rarely assumed any official posts. Moreover, he spent most of his life in exile in France where he died. Though in Iraq he has always been dubbed the “founding leader,” this was merely symbolic as he did not occupy any position in the political arena that was completely dominated by Saddam Hussein.

It goes without saying that the Baath Party played a pivotal role in the field of Arab culture and was indeed the most composed and profound ideological trend of pan-Arab nationalism. Its most prominent writers and intellects were exposed to oppression and torture during the era of Saddam Hussein.

If the German Nazi Party was clearly founded upon hostile and racialist concepts, then the Arab Baath Party had derived its key concepts and value from modern humanistic philosophies and practiced politics during the period of openness to liberalism in Syria where its members managed to hold important positions in parliament and authoritative bodies.

It is true that the Baath ideology transformed after forming an alliance with the socialist trend led by Akram al Hourani in 1950. It set aside its philosophical concepts and romantic lyricism and embraced radical and revolutionary slogans instead. Furthermore, it adopted a strategy of forming an alliance with the military as an instrument of rapid change rather than counting on changing perceptions. The issue here is related to a comprehensive and ideological shift that took over the cultural scene and was a clear result of the deep impact of Marxist thought, which reshaped common intellectual patterns.

What the Baath Party acquired in terms of authority, it lost in terms of culture. It transformed from a party representing the cultural elite to an ideological mechanism of oppressive rule.

The question we pose today is about the position and role that it will take after having lost its power and returning to the political arena in a democracy and without occupying forces.