x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Baathists may use WikiLeaks to sue US over 'illegal occupation'

Iraq's Baath party, forcibly removed from power by the US-led invasion of 2003, believes leaked American military documents could help it sue the US government over the war.

Damascus // Iraq's Baath party, forcibly removed from power by the US-led invasion of 2003, believes leaked American military documents could help it sue the US government over the war.

Baathist officials are planning to meet with international law experts in March to discuss the possibility of taking legal action against Washington, party members said.

They believe the publication by WikiLeaks of 400,000 papers that the US army had intended to keep secret has bolstered the chances of making a case.

The WikiLeaks files, released last month, documented a litany of prisoner abuse and civilian deaths at the hands of US forces and, according to the whistle-blowing website, contained evidence of possible war crimes by US troops

"The [WikiLeaks] documents are very important because they expose the facts of the illegal occupation to the world," Abu Mohammad, the official Baath party spokesman, said in an interview. "Perhaps they will constitute the basis for a future legal case against the criminals involved in the war, and will force them to pay compensation to the victims of the destruction of the state of Iraq.

"The documents are evidence and they will support proper legal action to secure the rights of Iraqis, if not by us now then by future generations."

Abu Mohammad, who spoke on condition he be identified only by this nom de guerre, is the official spokesman of the Iraqi Baath party.

Membership has been illegal in Iraq since the party was banned in 2003, following decades of highly repressive rule.

Baathists, led by Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, a chief aide to the deposed president Saddam Hussein, have fought against the US and Iraqi government in the bloody post-invasion insurgency. Still loyal to Iraq's former leader, they insist their removal from power was illegal and that the existing Iraqi administration, and fledgling democratic political process, was illegitimate because it was established in the presence of a foreign occupation army.

"We are arranging a meeting in March with specialist lawyers involved in international law and human rights law and we will discuss if there are steps we can take," Abu Mohammad said. "We may be able to lodge a formal case with the international criminal court or in national courts."

He did not give any further details, and added that, until the legal consultations had taken place, it was impossible to know if a worthwhile case could be built.

Anti-war campaigners have similarly stated that the WikiLeaks files may make an important part of a legal case against leading western figures involved in the war, including the former US president George W Bush and the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, although no lawsuits have yet been filed.

Faltering attempts at legal action over the 2003 Iraqi invasion have already been taken, however, to little avail, with activists seeking to use the principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute those behind the conflict.

Despite maintaining that the current political process in Iraq was illegitimate, Abu Mohammad also confirmed the party had backed Ayad Allawi's Iraqiyya list in national elections. Mr Allawi led his coalition to a narrow victory in the March ballot, but failed to secure a governing majority and was subsequently outmanoeuvred for the post of prime minister by his incumbent rival, Nouri al Maliki.

Drawing on cross-sectarian support, Iraqiyya scored particularly well in Sunni-dominated areas typically associated with hard-core Baath party membership. Before the election Iraqiyya was dogged by accusations of a close association with outlawed Baathists, and some of its principle members were barred from standing for parliament over their alleged connections.

Controversy over the status of Baath party and former party members continues to cast a shadow over Iraq's political landscape, and could yet lead to the collapse of fragile power sharing arrangements, with Iraqiyya pushing for an end to an aggressive de-Baathification process.

"As Baathists our target is not to support Ayad Allawi for prime minister, our target is resistance and to end the occupation," Abu Mohammad said.

"We did not participate in the election but we support Ayad Allawi because he wanted to end sectarian politics, unite Iraq and put an end to the Iranian project to infiltrate the country."

Despite stressing that Iraqiyya was not a proxy for the Baath party and denying Baathists had cast votes for Mr Allawi, Abu Mohammad claimed Iraqiyya's victory indicated the strength of grassroots nationalist sentiments as expounded by the Baathists.

"We wanted to send a message to Iraqis, to the Americans and to the world that the Baathists are a real power on the ground in Iraq, if they decide to support one group, they will win the election."

He added: "If part of the Baathists make Ayad Allawi win the election, imagine what will happen if we used all of the Baathists."

The Baathist spokesman did also hint that the group could take a "positive" attitude to the next Iraqi government, if it operates a non-sectarian power-sharing formula advocated by Iraqiyya.

But he said the group was also preparing for a new war against Iranian influence, once US forces withdraw from the country at the end of next year.

"After the Americans pull out, if Iran and its agents prevent fair elections [including Baath party participation] the other choice for us will be arms," he said. "We will not allow Iran to take Iraq through its satellite parties,

"The Iraqi resistance forced the Americans to leave Iraq and we will not allow Iran to relax and take everything."

 

psands@thenational.ae