The terror of Saddam Hussein’s secret police has lived on long after his fall through their millions of reports, which are still dragged up by Iraqi politicians and the media, often with damaging results.
But Saad Iskander, the head of Iraq’s national archives, thinks the documents have been used for long enough, and is pushing legislation that would criminalise their release without the consent of the people they concern.
“Baath party officials, the secret organisations, the secret police, they all received and wrote millions and even billions of reports on ordinary people, party officials,” Iskander told AFP.
It was “an awful dictatorship that dominated all aspects of life, not only through terror but also through documentation and spying.”
But unlike in Germany, where an agency was set up after reunification to process the documents of the former East Germany’s Stasi secret police, Iraq saw its archives dispersed to the four winds after Saddam’s overthrow by a 2003 US-led invasion.
The US Pentagon obtained 48,000 boxes of documents and the Central Intelligence Agency acquired millions of papers, as did Iraqi political parties, individuals and the media, Iskander said.
Almost 10 years after Saddam’s fall, the documents are still posing problems.
“Some documents published in the press named people who were executed, and when, and where,” Iskander said. “They didn’t conceal the names of the victims.”
“We don’t have the right to publish the names of the victims and of those who committed the crimes,” he said. “This is up to them.”
Iskander also condemned the actions of some political parties, which have threatened to release documents allegedly showing candidates from opposing parties were members of Saddam’s now-banned Baath party.
“We have dissuaded some media from using the archives, but it is impossible to put pressure on the political parties… unless we have a law that allows it,” he said.
So Iskander has prepared and submitted a draft law that, if adopted by parliament, would criminalise the publication of Saddam-era documents without the consent of those concerned.
“This law will organise the level of access to information. Some information will be disclosed to the prime minister, some to the judges. But not everybody will have access to all information,” he said.
“This wealth of information, those documents, are a weapon. It can be used and abused.”
Iskander said the draft law provides for penalties including fines and prison sentences for those who release documents without authorisation, although he declined to reveal the details as the draft was still under review.
When asked by AFP about the issue, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the government would support such a law.
Iskander’s proposal is also viewed kindly within the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which saw some of its candidates face bans in the run-up to 2010 parliamentary polls over allegations of Baathist ties.
But Haidar al-Mullah, a leading Iraqiya MP, criticised the government for the lengthy “de-Baathification” process and termed the need for a law such as that proposed by Iskander “a failure of the government.”
De-Baathification “was for a specific period and should be ended. It is not logical that after 10 years we are still in the cycle of de-Baathification,” Mullah said.
And while some support Iskander’s initiative, others warn that the proposed new law could place limits on freedom of the press.
“How can we remain silent when we see a document about former Baath party members which carries information about a genocide?” asked Ziad al-Ajili, the head of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, an Iraqi watchdog.
“Remaining silent is a crime. The crime is not to publish these documents,” Ajili said.