Iraq brings back 20,000 Hussein-era officers
Skeptics see move as bid by Maliki to appease voters
BAGHDAD - Iraq yesterday reinstated 20,000 former army officers dismissed after the US-led invasion, a landmark gesture at reconciliation ahead of the March 7 elections.
It’s a move designed to allay some of the bitterness that still rankles Iraq years after the Bush administration made the controversial decision to dismantle Saddam Hussein’s army.
The 20,000 returnees are the largest known group to rejoin the officer corps.
The timing of the announcement also raised suspicions that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, and his allies were currying favor ahead of the election for a new, 325-seat parliament.
News of the reinstatement was followed by a UN announcement that Iraq was gaining momentum with its bid to end UN sanctions imposed after Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait in 1990. The UN Security Council pledged “to review, with a view toward lifting’’ the sanctions once Iraq’s safeguards against acquiring weapons of mass destruction are shown to be sufficient.
The 2003 order by Iraq’s then-governor, American L. Paul Bremer, to dissolve Hussein’s 400,000-strong army on the eve of the 2003 invasion is widely seen as a key factor that fed the alienation many Sunnis felt toward the new Iraq.
That rancor fueled a Sunni insurgency that broke out later that year and still claims lives in Iraq.
Sunnis dominated Hussein’s regime, and many top military officers came from the community. Jobless and angry, some from the old army, which was the largest in the Middle East, took their expertise in explosives, urban warfare, and military tactics to the insurgency, seeking an income for their families or revenge against the Americans and their Iraqi allies.
The disbanding of the army, along with the looting of the army’s bases and depots across much of Iraq, is widely blamed for the torturously slow pace of forming, equipping, and training the country’s new army.
A defense ministry spokesman denied yesterday’s announcement was linked to the election, insisting that funding for the 20,000 positions is only now available. Critics, however, said the sudden return of their jobs might influence the votes of the reinstated officers.
The skepticism underscored how bitter feelings have become between Iraq’s factions ahead of the election.