The autocratic Baath regime, particularly during Saddam Hussein’s long rule, is contradictory to much of the country’s history and heritage.
There is no doubt Iraq’s modern history, more specifically since the establishment of the current Iraqi state, has been characterized by instability and political violence caused mainly by military conspiracies to topple the monarchy. However, Baath-party rule has been the only regime in the country’s history that sought to impose a dictatorship based on oppression, destruction of civilian society, and wasting of natural resources.
Dictatorship came into full expression in Iraq with the Baathist coup led by Gen. Hassan el-Bakr and Saddam in 1968. During ten transitional years the modern Iraqi state was steadily transformed from a constitutional monarchy with parliament, political parties, and free press from 1930 to 1958, ultimately ending in fascist military rule.
The Baath party initially consisted of non-harmonious elements which had no links to civilian society and was rejected by the people. Baathism was based on the tyrannical Nazi ideology imported in 1947 by Syrian politician Michel Aflaq. When it took power for the second time in Iraq in 1968, the Baath party sought to eliminate all possible real dangers that threatened the regime. In fact, Saddam pointed the way when he launched his notorious slogan, “We came to stay.” Following a bloody campaign that claimed the lives of half the Baath leadership, he placed the party under the control of trusted members of his Tikrit tribe. Saddam then concentrated the state’s powers and control of the army in the hands of the party.
Over time, the Iraqi president turned the Baath party into an intelligence and security organ. The army was transformed into a tool of oppression backed by a number of independent security and intelligence agencies, each having a role in controlling the civilian society and institutions.
Iraq’s huge oil wealth became a virtual private property for Saddam and his family. By turning the country into a giant jail for all sects and ethnic groups composing the Iraqi society, Saddam created a powerful “hunger for democracy,” resulting in a national awareness of the fundamental importance of building a liberal state from Iraq’s ruins, one in which the entire population — not just a privileged few from a single tribe — may share freedom, strive for progress, and once again enjoy respect within the family of nations.
— Hussain Hindawi is a native Iraqi historian, humanitarian, and journalist who currently serves as editor of United Press International’s Arabic News Service. John R. Thomson has been involved in the Middle East since 1966 as businessman, diplomat, and journalist. He has lived in Beirut, Cairo, and Riyadh, and reported extensively during and after the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1990-91 Gulf War. This was written for United Press International and is reprinted with permission.