This story has a lot of potential to change things in Iraq on a large scale:
The leader of Iraq's banned Baath party, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, has decided to join efforts by the Iraqi authorities to fight al-Qaeda, one of the party's former top officials, Abu Wisam al-Jashaami, told pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.This is not the end. But it could be the beginning of the end. The Baath party was Saddam's people. His instructions to them to disband, fall back and fight another day were the beginning of this whole headache. Saddam's ties to Al Qaeda were easily revealed in his party members cooperating with AQI. Without the Baath support, things are going to get mighty shaky for AQI.
"AlDouri has decided to sever ties with al-Qaeda and sign up to the programme of the national resistance, which includes routing Islamist terrorists and opening up dialogue with the Baghdad government and foreign forces," al-Jashaami said.
Al-Douri has decided to deal directly with US forces in Iraq, according to al-Jashaami. He figures in the 55-card deck of "most wanted" officials from the former Iraqi regime issued by the US government.
Recent weeks have seen a first step in this direction, when Baathist fighters cooperated with Iraqi government forces in hunting down al-Qaeda operatives in the volatile Diyala province and in several districts of the capital, Baghdad.
This is entirely speculation, but the timing of this event could be brilliant for al-Maliki. The Iraqi people would not have accepted reintegration of former Baathists into their newly formed government. Decades of fear took that option off the table. However, with the new demon of AQI, al-Maliki may have done a master stroke in allowing the Baathists a means to redeem themselves -- and reconcile their past transgressions.
If the Baath party can be formerly reconciled with the legitimate government in such a way that leaves no potential for eventual takeover and a fall back into despotism, the Iraqi government's perceived legitimacy will soar.
Checkmate? Perhaps not. But check for sure.
Update: Ed over at Captain's Quarters has more (and better) on this topic.