The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party was a political party founded in Syria in the mid-1940s; it quickly found its way into Iraq. The ideology of the party was a combination of Arab nationalism, pan-Arabism, Arab socialism, and anti-imperialism. The party members called themselves the “resurrection” and looked to unify the Arab world into a single state.
The struggle for political supremacy between the different parties in Iraq lasted for roughly 10 years. In 1966, the Military Committee of Syria and Iraq initiated a coup d’ état, which ousted the National Command in both countries. This resulted in the Iraqi Regional Branch (IRB) and the Syrian National Branch of Ba’ath being in charge of their respective countries.
The IRB leader, Rakabi, was a Shia Muslim who attempted to recruit his Shiite friends as supporters to firmly secure his position of power. Yet, Shia recruitment proved to be difficult as most Shiites saw the pan-Arab ideology as a Sunni project. So, Rakabi quickly found himself outnumbered by the Sunnis, and control of the IRB swiftly switched sects.
As the IRB tried to maneuver its way into the United Arab Republic, a Middle East initiative, it became politically divided. The separation in views quickly led to part of the IRB splitting off and forming a new political group. The leader of that group was Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein Joins the Ba’ath Party
Saddam Hussein was an educated man who had studied in Baghdad. Shortly after graduating from college, he joined the Ba’ath party and took part in an abortive coup attempt against the ruling Iraqi Ba’ath party sect. Not long after his coup attempt, Saddam and his associates conspired against the Iraqi government and attempted to assassinate the prime minister, Abdel-Karim Qassem.
Saddam’s plans were exposed, and he was discovered before the attempt. He fled the country to seek refuge instead of staying in Iraq as an enemy of the state.
Once the Ba’ath party regained power in Iraq, Saddam returned to his associates and began to jockey for a position finally landing a seat on the ruling Revolutionary Command Council. He spent several years there being mentored by the incumbent president, Ahmed Hassan Bakr. In the end, Saddam’s endless pursuit of power landed him the presidency of Iraq in 1979.
After coming to power, Saddam quickly earned himself the title of the most hated Arab leader.
Saddam’s Leadership Was Pure Terror
His leadership was continuously forced onto his people. He heavily used propaganda and portrayed himself as a valiant knight leading the Arabs into battle against the infidel. But the reality of his ludicrous claims is that he drove Iraq into bankruptcy and left its infrastructure in shambles following the sanctions imposed by the United Nations after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
Additionally, with Kurds in the North, Sunni Muslims in central Iraq, and Shiites in the south, the country was ethnically and religiously divided. One has to wonder how it was possible for Saddam to hold together the unstable nation.
In an interview, he openly admitted to the torture and killing of anyone who opposed him. His method of suppressing the Kurds in the north and of subduing the Shiites in the south was to use chemical weapons and demolish entire towns.
The world saw Saddam’s leadership as pure terror, but Saddam called in “expediency.” A former Iraqi diplomat living in exile summed up Saddam’s rule in one sentence, “Saddam is a dictator who is ready to sacrifice his country, just so long as he can remain on his throne in Baghdad.”
Although it has been said that his leadership style arguably was the only thing keeping the country somewhat orderly and tenuously united, the despot oppressed Iraq for more than 30 years. He unleashed devastating regional wars and reduced the once-promising, oil-rich country to a claustrophobic police state.
This article was originally published in May 2020. It has been edited for republication.