Seven years after the United States-led invasion, and three years after the leader it overthrew was executed, a question in Iraq remains unanswered: Who is a Baathist?
The term is as malleable as it is incendiary, and the quandary it represents has underlined the growing dispute over the credibility of Iraq’s parliamentary elections in March, which the Obama administration had viewed as a milestone in its plans to withdraw tens of thousands of combat troops by August.
Some of the country’s more ardently Shiite leaders see the hand of the Baathists, followers of the secular Arab nationalist party of former President Saddam Hussein, in a spate of spectacular attacks, a sign that the party has yet to relinquish its ambition to return to power.
To many Sunni Arabs, though, it is a catchall term employed to disenfranchise them. This month, it has become the fig leaf, critics say, for a brazen campaign of score-settling that has reopened sectarian wounds and thrown into question the legitimacy of the March 7 vote.
“We’re caught between two fires,” said Omar Mashhadani, a spokesman for Iraq’s parliamentary speaker, Ayad al-Sammarai. “On the one hand, we don’t want the Baathists back in the political process. On the other, we don’t want the name used to settle scores. It’s as if all the Baathists are Sunnis, and all the Sunnis are Baathists.” [continued…]