Baghdad turns to former Baath officers to defeat IS

Baghdad turns to former Baath officers to defeat IS
Analysis: Reports suggest that the unimaginable might be about to happen - Baath party officers will be enlisted to help Iraq fight the Islamic State group.
3 min read
29 April, 2015
Iraq's army under Saddam Hussein was considered the most powerful in the Arab world [Getty]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will turn to members of the former Baath Party for military advice on how to defeat the Islamic State group, it has emerged.

Abadi and key figures in the national alliance allegedly held a secret meeting at the Baghdad home of the Supreme Islamic Council leader Ammar al-Hakim to discuss the issue.

A source with knowledge of the matter told al-Araby al-Jadeed the options brought to the table were surprising - and unpalatable for most in the group.

They included seeking help from US ground forces and arming Sunni tribes.

Best worst option

The Sadrist movement is said to have categorically rejected any involvement of US troops, while others stood opposed to supplying weapons to Sunni tribes.

This left officials with the third option - recruiting military officers from the Baath Party with the requisite battlefield experience.

"Many members of the alliance expressed reservations about this. This includes a decree that was issued to purge the state of Baath party members – and this applies to many former army officers," said our source.

"Restoring them to their former positions would amount to an admission of their strength and combat abilities. Iran rejects this."

However, the source said that the option was "the lesser of three evils". 

Abadi is now set to meet with key defence and military officials to coordinate the speedy reinstatement of former army officers within a "controlled framework".

     Former officers have the experience needed to defeat IS and others.
- Abdul Athim al-Shammari, retired Iraqi army general

Abdul Athim al-Shammari, a retired army general, stressed the importance of the move in the fight against IS. He believes the decision should have been taken much earlier.

"When Abadi took office, he should have worked to reinstate members of the former army because they are well acquainted with the battlefield and the nature of the battle. They have the experience needed to defeat IS and others," he said.

Battlefield experience

The delay means the Iraqi army faces now faces a race against time to recruit the former officers, Shammari said, as the IS make advances around Ramadi.

"Iraq has lost a great deal recently, and will continue to lose until the army is restored. The responsibility for these losses must lie with those who lead the country, but who know nothing about military leadership," he said.

He said a fear that IS could still capture Baghdad forced officials into the decision.

The Alliance of Iraqi Powers' Muhammad al-Obeidi believes that the time has come to bypass previous political deals.

"Tackling the political agreements with the Sunni blocs constitute basic solutions to the Iraq crisis," Obeidi said. "Had Abadi implemented them, we would not be where we are today."

He said that the dissolving of the Iraqi national guard, and the de-Baathisation of the state, have proved to be disastrous for Iraq.

The move to bring in former army officers, and to reach out to Sunni groups, he said, could bring about the national reconciliation that the country desperately needs.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.