Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Baath Party, Rise of Saddam Hussein, and the Iran-Iraq War

The Baath Party started as proponent of Arab Socialism that had come to the forefront by Nasser in Egypt. In 1968 the Baath party successfully overthrew the monarchy in Iraq. With control over the country, the party used their influence to control Iraq in two distinct areas; one with party members at high government positions and military personnel. The other was influencing party decisions at the local levels.  Due to the system that was established under the Baath Party this allowed for Saddam Hussein to take control, manipulate his people, and launch the most destructive war of the late 20th century.

Governmental and Political Structure of the Republic of Iraq:

The Baath Party became the dominant political party of Iraq following the coup of the monarchy in 1968. From here in theory Iraq was to be a republic of party politics. In practice the country became dominated by the Baath Party and this heavily influenced the political decisions of the government.[1]
At the local party level, the party introduced cells of three to seven members in each village to be the eyes and ears of the party. These village members would report their findings to the provincial level.[2] The provincial level had twenty-one branches, eighteen for each province and three branches for the capital of Baghdad. The union of the provincial level created the party's congress from which elected the regional command. The regional command at its head was the secretary general, who was the head of the Baath Party, and the deputy secretary general, who was second in rank. The regional command had the authority to be the top decision making body for the party. In theory, the regional command was answerable to the party congress and would convene with them over policies.[3]
At the national level was the National Command. This group had representatives from all regional commands and answered to the National Congress, it led the direction of the National Baath Party. The National Command operated as the spokes group for the Baath Movement to the outside world.[4]
In July 1968, the Revolutionary Command Council was established as the decision making body for the state of Iraq. In theory it differed slightly from the Baath Party structure, but in reality the secretary general of the Baath Party was the head of the Revolutionary Command Council. In 1977, the Baath Party regarded all members of the Party Command as members of the Revolutionary Command Council, essentially legitimizing the Baath Party as the only party of the state.[5]

Saddam Hussein's Rise to Power:

In the wake of the coup of the monarchy in Iraq in 1968, the Baath Party emerged as the dominant political group in Iraq. After Nasser's control of the Arab Socialist movement waned following the defeat in the June 1967 War, this allowed the Baath Party to move more freely. By 1968 the Baath Party created an inner circle of tribal ties to lead the party. The most notable tribe was the Tikriti, a Sunni group from the northwestern town of Tikrit. In the first Revolutionary Command Council, three of the five members were Tikritis, one of them being Saddam Hussein.[6]
The leader of Iraq following the coup in 1968 was Ahmad Hasa al Bakr. After an unsuccessful coup attempt by a coalition of conservatives and military personnel less than two months into Bakr's regime, he utilized this distraction to launch numerous purges against his enemies. From 1968 to 1973 he orchestrated sham trials, executions, assassinations, and intimidations to eliminate anyone suspected of challenging the Baath Party or his rule.[7]
With Bakr as the head of the party, Hussein maintained his position as the second in command. Both men worked together to form strong bonds with the military which included Baathists and non-Baathists. Hssein became known as a ruthless politician, maneuvering himself to prevent political opponents from emerging. In 1969, Hussein became the moving force for the party, while keeping Bakr in a more figurehead type role.[8]
In 1973, after an unsuccessful coup attempt, the Revolutionary Command Council amended the constitution giving the president more powers. By 1977 the Baath Party was being exclusively led by Bakr, Hussein, and General Adnan Khayer Allah Talfah, Hussein's brother-in-law.[9] Also in 1977, due to Bakr's failing health, he started to rely much more heavily on Hussein. Nearly all parts of the government and the Baath Party reported directly to Hussein instead of Bakr. The following year, the Baath Party created its own militia of 50,000 men. Bakr officially resigned his post as the president in 1979. This made Hussein the president of the republic, secretary general of the Baath Party, chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, and commander in chief of the armed forces. [10]
One of Hussein’s major goals for the country was to strengthen the economy.  He introduced state sponsored industrial modernization programs that created much popularity within the Iraqi people.  He provided a greater distribution of wealth, greater social mobility, an increased access to education and health care, and the redistribution of land.  These programs brought great numbers of Iraqis to the Baath Party, including many that had been strongly opposed to the central government.[11] 
            After the consolidation of power by the Baath Party, they pursued their goal of spreading their Pan-Arabic and Socialist philosophy across the Arab states.  Between 1975 and 1979, Hussein worked with the Shah of Iran to help ease long standing tensions that had been around since the end of World War II.  Hussein reached out to improve relations with Saudi Arabia, Oman, and other Gulf kingdoms. 
            One of the most important diplomatic opportunities that arose for Hussein was the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978.  When Egypt under the leadership of President Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel, this move alienated Egypt from the rest of the Arab world.  This allowed Hussein and Iraq to play a larger role in Arab affairs.  He denounced the Camp David Accords and imposed sanctions on Egypt.  He ended his longstanding feud with Syrian President Hafiz al Assad.  He became the first Iraqi head of state to visit Jordan in twenty years.  This visit between Hussein and King Hussein of Jordan allowed for Iraq to have access to the port of Aqabah.[12]

The Iran-Iraq War:

            Before the overthrow of the Shah in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Saddam Hussein reached out to the Shah to help mend tensions.  In March 1975, Hussein signed an agreement with the Shah that finally settled the border dispute between the two nations that had not worked in 1937 or in 1969.  Part of this agreement was for the Shah to prevent subversive elements from crossing the border into Iraq.  The majority of the subversive elements had been Kurds that Iraq had to contend with for the majority of the 1970s.  Without the aid of Iran, the Kurds were quickly rounded up by the Iraqi forces and eliminated.[13]
            With the Iranian Revolution, the peace agreement that had been in place between Iran and Iraq seemed to have fallen apart.  Hussein saw the new Islamist regime as both an opportunity and a threat.  Hussein feared that the new Shi’a regime would promote the Shi’a majority in Iraq to revolt and try to overthrow Hussein’s regime.  In July 1979 riots broke out in the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala after the government to allow the Ayatollah Baqir to lead a procession to Iran to congratulate Khomeini.[14]  Despite the fear of Shi’a uprisings, Iraq sent their best wishes to Khomeini and the Iranian people on the establishment of the Islamic Republic.  Iraq invited the first president of Iran, Mehdi Bazargan to improve bilateral relations, but due to the rise of militant preaching by Khomeini, this caused the relationship between the two nations to end.
            Starting in 1980, after unsuccessful attempts by a Shi’a extremist group Ad Dawah to assassinate high ranking Baath Party leaders, including the foreign minister Tariq Aziz and minister of culture and information Latif Nayyif Jasim, Hussein rounded up and deported members and executed the leader.[15] 
            The two nations started border skirmishes in September 1980, which led to increased hostility and eventual bombing raids on both sides.  On September 23, Iraqi troops marched into Iranian territory.  The war that ensued from Western sources seemed to be nothing more than the ancient Arab-Persian feud that had been going on for centuries.  There was more to the war than just one old grudge.  This war continued the Shi’a-Sunni conflict and personal animosity between Hussein and Khomeini.  In 1977, Khomeini was expelled from Iraq by the Baath Party after spending fifteen years in Najaf.  Khomeini felt that the Shi’as in the shrine cities were being exploited by the Baath Party and vowed revenge.[16]
            When Iraqi military planners had gathered intelligence on the situation in Iran, they believed that they could win a quick war.  Despite the population of Iran being much larger than Iraq, the Iraqi military was much better equipped in terms of arms and mobile infantry.  The weapons and tanks that the United States had given Iran under the Shah had been left to rust, but the one place that the Iraqis believed Iran had an advantage was their air force.  The air force had some of the most sophisticated aircraft that had been made in the United States.  To prevent the Iranian air force from mobilizing, the Iraqi air force launched massive bombing raids to destroy the runways, fuel depots, and hangers.  Unfortunately for the Iraqis, the bombing raids did little to destroy the Iranian air force due to the strength of the hangers to repel Iraqi bombs. 
            Iraq mobilized their nearly 200 thousand men, 2,200 tanks, and 450 airplanes and launched a three front attack on Iran.[17]  In the first few weeks the Iraqi army crushed the Iranian army and captured major cities within Iran.  The Iranian military command had been purged and executed by the new regime and what remained was not well trained.  Despite the inadequacies in the Iranian military, they were able to keep the Iraqi army from reaching Tehran.  After a counterattack failed to stop Iraqi forces in 1981, they managed to push Iraqi troops back in 1982 and kept pushing them back until 1984. 
            By the end of 1984 after nearly four years of fighting a combined 550 thousand troops had been killed or wounded.  Between 1984 and 1987 the war turned into a war of attrition, where neither side managed to take much ground and lost thousands of soldiers.  Fearing what either superpower would do, both the United States and the Soviet Union sold arms and supplies to both sides.  This allowed Hussein to create weapons that had not been widely used since World War I.  Hussein created and used chemical and biological weapons and attached them to bombs, shells, and rockets against the Iranian forces.
            With increasing pressure from the United Nations to end the war after reports that chemical and biological weapons had been used.  Iraq made one final push to try and decisively end the war.  From April to August 1988, Iraq launched Operation Blessed Ramadan to finally end the war.  The operation successfully pushed the Iranian forces back, but failed to make a decisive blow.  In August 1988, after eight years of fighting, Iran and Iraq formally agreed to a ceasefire when Iran accepted UN Security Council Resolution 598.   The estimates for the war included nearly one million dead, many thousands wounded, and millions became refugees.  Despite the victory by Iraq, they failed to get many of issues that started the war resolved.[18]


Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field%28DOCID+iq0024%29 accessed 4/30/12).
            This article focused on the specifics of each battle and the different military tactics that were used by both sides of the war.
Iraq: The Emergence of Saddam Husayn, 1968-1979.  (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field%28DOCID+iq0024%29 accessed 4/30/12).
            This article took a look at the makeup of the early Baath Party and how Saddam Hussein rose to power.
Iraq: The Iran-Iraq Conflict.  (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field%28DOCID+iq0024%29 accessed 4/30/12).
            This article focused on the build up and reasons for the Iran-Iraq war.
Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. A Country Study: Iraq. Edited by Helen Chapin Metz.  Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1990. (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/iqtoc.html accessed 4/30/12).
            This article looked at the layout and organization of the Baath Party in Iraq.

[1] A Country Study: Iraq
[2] A Country Study: Iraq
[3] A Country Study: Iraq
[4] A Country Study: Iraq
[5] A Country Study: Iraq
[6] Iraq: The Emergence of Saddam Husayn, 1968-1979
[7] Iraq: The Emergence of Saddam Husayn, 1968-1979
[8] Iraq: The Emergence of Saddam Husayn, 1968-1979
[9] Iraq: The Emergence of Saddam Husayn, 1968-1979
[10] Iraq: The Emergence of Saddam Husayn, 1968-1979
[11] Iraq: The Emergence of Saddam Husayn, 1968-1979
[12] Iraq: The Iran-Iraq Conflict
[13] Iraq: The Iran-Iraq Conflict
[14] Iraq: The Iran-Iraq Conflict
[15] Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).
[16] Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).
[17] Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).
[18] Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).

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