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Ali is an economist and political analyst, working at a private UK-based company. He worked previously at the World Health Organisation and has an MSc in Development Studies from SOAS. You can follow him on Twitter (@alialsaffar).

Repentance and reconciliation

Trust needs to be re-established between Iraq’s ethno-religious communities. Decades of Ba’athist rule tore apart the fabric of society, and the Machiavellian policies of using sectarianism to gain political leverage, a mainstay of  the post-Saddam era, has been extremely potent in exacerbating these divisions further. I believe in the need for reconciliation, to the extent that I believe ex-Ba’athists who are ready to repent, ready to recognise their mistakes and ready to apologise to their victims should be allowed entry into Iraqi society again.

One person who does not fit into this category is the ex-foreign minister, Tariq Aziz. A man who, at a trial for the Anfal genocides his regime perpetrated against the Kurds, said: ”I had the honour to work with the former regime and with the hero Saddam Hussein” and who clearly doesn’t feel there was anything wrong with the long list of crimes against humanity his regime carried out with ruthless efficiency. It therefore came as a real shock to me when Ayad Allawi had this to say about this ruthless Ba’athist criminal: ”Tell Tariq Aziz that he is my friend and I think of him often. He is a good man and I know his family well. I wish him all the best and it is wrong to lock him up like this for so long. He is an old man.”

Lets be clear: Aziz actively contributed to the downfall of Iraq. His regime’s legacy has resulted in Iraq being what it is today. And he is completely unrepentant. So I agree with Dr Allawi, it is wrong to lock him up. He deserves nothing less than the noose.

25 Comments on “Repentance and reconciliation”

  1. Yasir S August 9, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    Wow, if he is friend’s with someone as high up in the regime as Aziz and thinks well of him, then God forbid, what is he going to do if he becomes PM? What an insult to all the victims of the Saddam regime.

  2. Mohammed Abdullah August 9, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    I’m not even surprised.

  3. Ali August 9, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

    Allawi is another unashamedly unrepentant Baathi prick

  4. anonymous August 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    I’m currently writing my dissertation on dealing with the Baathist legacy in Iraq, about the so-called dilemmas of balancing justice with reconciliation. I would be very grateful for any feedback from contributors and other members of the forum about whether Iraq needs (1) a truth and reconciliation commission; (2) whether this TRC should be given the power to grant amnesty; (3) whether remorse and repentance should be required for the receipt of amnesty (this wasn’t required in South Africa, perpetrators could remain proud of their actions and still receive amnesty according to the law as long they disclose the “truth” about the crimes they have committed).

    Iraqi society still faces the huge task of coming to terms with the horrors that were inflicted during Saddam’s regime, and making painful compromises will probably have to be part of the way forward. What is clear to me however is that Baathists are not currently on the margins of Iraqi society waiting to be allowed back in, debaathification has in fact been a very flawed process which has allowed many senior baathists through the net while purging others. I believe baathists have a very powerful propaganda machine and many powerful allies in the region and they are definitely present with force throughout the different sectors of Iraqi society. What we might have to come to terms with too is a persistent refusal to apologise or accept responsibility. Some of my research showed that it took a completely new generation of Germans to accept responsibility for the crimes committed by the Nazis…

    Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  5. Anon August 10, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    One wonders what Allawi’s history is with the Ba’athists…

  6. Hayder al-Khoei August 10, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

    anon I’m currently drafting an article on precisely why Iraq needs a South African style TRC or even British style inquiry. Two commissions need to set-up (one for pre-2003 atrocities and one for post-2003 atrocities) and you are right it will be extremely painful for some, but it is important any country that has just gone through a particularly dark period in its history to learn from their mistakes and understand what has happened through an objective study.

  7. Ahmed August 12, 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    Anonymous: I think you’re ideas sound good, but I feel Iraqis are not ready for this. Maybe with the passage of time they can learn to forgive, but how can anyone allow amnesty to those who do not remorse and repent?

    Just the other day I was speaking to two men describing the torture they suffered at the hands of the Baathists in Abu Graib in the 80’s. Their stories were horrific to say the least. They made the recent American pictures look like mickey-mouse torture by comparison.

    What is the function of this TRC apart from granting amnesty?
    Why do we need to know the truth if we are not going to punish?
    It seems to me to only function as a stage, allowing criminals to gloat about their crimes, and be rewarded with amnesty.

  8. Zaynab Ali August 12, 2010 at 11:15 pm #


    I’ll tell you what he’ll do. He’ll form a national government with competent ministers and advisers unlike the current PM with his useless ministers and sectarian advisers, god forbid we stay under the same pathetic leadership we have now.

    For the others who are still ignorant about the history of Allawi and his association with the ba’th party. He obviously was a member of the ba’th, he never denies this. I assume he knew Aziz when they were young. Tariq aziz was practically the spokesperson of Saddam’s regime, he never had a security or military post, he was also never on the inner circle of Saddam’s Tikriti gang, his son was actually imprisoned by Udai. His comments are typical of someone in his position. So Ali, be careful before you condemn people so easily to the noose, makes you no better than a ruthless dictator like Saddam.

    • Ali Rashid August 13, 2010 at 7:39 am #

      Hi Zaynab, thanks for your comment.

      Aziz was the deputy prime minister, the foreign minister and a member of the Revolutionary Command Council, the highest executive and legislative body in Iraq. He was very much inside the coterie of ruling thugs. But let’s assume he wasn’t, and he was just a lowly spokesperson for the government (so was poor Joseph Goebbels), in that case he was still very much complicit in some of the worst crimes against humanity in the last 100 years.

      I know there’s a narrative that some people would have you believe that states that the crimes that happened in Iraq are the responsibility of Saddam, his sons, and a couple of people from the albu Nasir, but I’m willing to wager that what happened in Iraq couldn’t have happened without the complicity of ”support staff” like that “good man” Tariq Aziz.

      As for the bit on me being like Saddam: I’m not in the habit of humoring absurdities.


  9. Ali M August 14, 2010 at 1:47 am #

    I like how you used the fig-leaf of “ruthless dictator” at the end to hide your pitiful defense of Allawi and Aziz. You may have a good chance at succeeding Aziz as the Baath’s apologist-in-chief.

  10. Zaynab Ali August 14, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    Thanks for the career advice but it’s not needed. My family was a victim of Saddam and his security forces but I don’t believe in victimhood. I deplore Aziz’s actions but it would be wrong for me to condemn him to death like Ali Rashied does. That would make me like Saddam who killed any person who disagreed with him or who “he” thought were committing crimes. That should be left to a court. Not this mob mentality that Ali advocates.

    He says he’s for reconciliation but comes with the same vengeful approach the politicians have, this won’t lead to anything.
    I do support Allawi, I don’t hide that, and I admire the fact that despite the regime trying to assassinate him and keeping him in hospital for over a year he does not let his personal grudges blur his vision for a united and reconciled Iraq.

    • Ali Rashid August 14, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

      Hi Zaynab, I think you’ve missed the boat a little on this one. I don’t advocate bringing Tariq Aziz to justice because “I disagree with him”, I advocate it because he was party to some of the worst crimes against Iraqis that they have ever suffered, and was charged with having committed crimes against humanity by an Iraqi court.

      And as for Allawis misjudged and quite unnecessary comments, there’s a difference between reconciliation and fawning. When people forgive, they do not necessarily absolve the perpetrator of the crime and pretend it never happened. That’s not reconciliation, that’s folly.


  11. Zaynab Ali August 14, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    I think you’ve missed the boat on the verdict of the court. They sentenced him to prison, but your pro-reconciliation form of justice would have him hanged. Why don’t you leave the verdicts to the court.

    • Ali Rashid August 14, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

      Hi Zaynab,
      I think you’ve mistaken me for someone in a position of authority or something; I have left it to the courts, I am exercising my right to an opinion as a private citizen. I wonder if you take exception to Dr Allawis failure to “leave the verdict to the court”, keeping in mind that his position in Iraqi politics means that his opinion has far more wide-ranging consequences than mine, as a lowly blogger, do.

      Again, I am pro reconciliation, but under certain terms, and not with people who are unwilling to admit to their crimes and apologize for them. Its not that complex a notion.


    • Mohammed Abdullah August 14, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

      ”Tell Tariq Aziz that he is my friend and I think of him often. He is a good man and I know his family well…”

      Why does Allawi say this about a criminal? Prison or death, he is still an indicted criminal and a former senior member of the Ba’ath party.

      Furthermore, Aziz is unapolegetic about praising Saddam. Why would Allawi speak highly of such a person?

  12. Zaynab Ali August 14, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

    And I’m exercising my right to express my opinion which states that other private citizens do not have the right to condemn people to the noose when a court has decided not to, especially when they claim to be pro-reconciliation. Not that complex a notion.

  13. Ali M August 14, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    The reason Tariq Aziz was not given the death penalty is because (unfathomably, in my opinion) according to Iraqi law, those over the age of seventy cannot be executed.

    It is completely disgraceful and tasteless of you to compare the condemnation of Tariq Aziz, who is a man complicit in Saddam’s crimes and who himself has blood on his hands, with “Saddam who killed any person who disagreed with him or who “he” thought were committing crimes”, when those people were not given the dignity of being tried but were killed arbitrarily and for no just reason.

    And do you seriously believe that Allawi was a victim of a Baath assassination attempt??

  14. Zaynab Ali August 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm #


    Tariq Aziz was sentenced to prison, he could have been sentenced to death and the execution halted due to that provision. It seems even iraqi law doesn’t satisfy yours and Ali’s revenge-seeking mentality.

    Thanks for reiterating my point, albeit unintentionally, that people were condemned to death without the dignity of a trial under Saddam, same way Ali Rashied’s opinion as a private citizen suggests.

    As for your conspiracy theory based question about whether I believe Allawi was a victim of an assassination attempt, I have picked up a habit of not humouring absurdities.


  15. Ali Rashid August 16, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    Hi Zaynab, thanks for your comment.

    You took such exception to my advocating the death penalty for Tariq Aziz on the grounds that you disagree with condemning people to the noose when a court has decided not to. That’s fair enough. But I am curious to know what your opinion, as a private citizen, is on wanting to set free a man who has been convicted of crimes against humanity and has been given a prison sentence?


  16. Zaynab Ali August 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    Even if I wouldn’t agree with setting him free, I would be more inclined to accept forgiveness over vengeance, reconciliation over score-settling, Even if the criminal does not deserve that forgiveness. That’s why most political systems in the world allow for amnesties but they do not allow murder, as one is a negative action the other is positive. Especially when the amnesty or the pardon is given to a person who is not in a position to cause actual harm to society anymore.

    • Mohammed Abdullah August 16, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

      This is a morally dubious argument. It’s all good and well to forgive someone who has committed an injustice against you, but you have no right to forgive on behalf of others.

      And by the way, he’s not asking for forgiveness, he continues to praise Saddam. He’s in no position to be forgiven. You seem to want to bend over backward to paint him in the best possible light. Allawi supporter? Would never have guessed…

    • Ali Rashid August 16, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

      Good points you’ve raised there. The only thing I would argue is that there’s a difference between justice and vengeance. An example, I spend every single day of my life trying to bring to justice the people responsible for my father’s kidnapping, this is not because I am a vengeful person, or because I’m vindictive or bitter, but because those who commit heinous crimes: murder (or in this case mass murder), rape and kidnapping must be held accountable for what they have done.

      In sum, I respect the courts decision. Life imprisonment is what they’ve decided (15 years but that should see his demise), and that sounds fair. And, believe it or not, I am actually completely in favour of reconciliation, but one thing I am wary of is white-washing history: turning Aziz into a victim when he clearly isn’t, or trying to pass the Ba’ath of as some benign force that was only corrupted by Saddam, his sons, and the Beijat.

  17. Zaynab Ali August 16, 2010 at 11:42 pm #


    Read my comment again carefully please before you pass your judgment on it. Your comments seem always aimed at getting one over the opposing view rather than having a constructive dialogue. Maliki supporter?


    I appreciate your comments as you seem to be willing to have a discussion unlike others.

    Maybe you do feel like your for reconciliation and I don’t doubt your intentions but I don’t feel the level of reconciliation you seek is enough for the situation we face in Iraq at the moment. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree.


    • Mohammed Abdullah August 17, 2010 at 12:28 am #

      I read your comments. You keep talking about reconciliation. Aziz doesn’t even acknowledge the attrocities committed by the government he used to be part of and the man he praises. Where’s the reconciliation?

      In any case, to me it wouldn’t matter if Aziz kissed the feet of every victim of Ba’athism, because I don’t believe in any kind of reconciliation with a regime that committed genocide.

      And why does Allawi consider himself friends with Aziz? Allawi is the former PM of Iraq and wants to be again, he is not some random guy on the street who’s world view is inconsequential. Yet he talks about one of the most senior members of the Ba’ath party in friendly terms – literally.

  18. anonymous August 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    People can disagree about this topic without either being labelled vengeful or Baathist-lovers. It’s about what’s best for Iraq and how it can move forward…

    From “Taking Wrongs Seriously: Acknowledgment, Reconciliation, an the Politics of Sustainable Peace” (by Trudy Govier):
    “For reconciliation, the most crucial and powerful acknowledgment will come from the individuals and groups who committed the wrongs. For acknowledgment to work for victims and society, individuals and groups who committed wrongs will have to admit, publicly, that they did so..” (61)

    My problem with the forgive and forget approach is that it places a huge burden on the victims and their families (forgive and forget all the horror you went through) and asks absolutely nothing of the perpetrators (not even acknowledgement that they did anything wrong, let alone an apology, and nothing near a punishment in prison fit for their crimes). The only justification I can see for this is that Baathist are simply unwilling to do their bit, which for me also indicates that they are no where on the route to being rehabilitated and therefore just as capable of repeating these crimes as soon as they have another chance to. That’s why the issue is not simply one of vengeance.

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