The Baathist Government of 1968–1979 and the Ascent of Saddam Hussein

The Baathist Government of 1968–1979 and the Ascent of Saddam Hussein

The overthrow of the Aref government was led by the Baath Party in Iraq. Baathist thought had come late to Iraq. It fi rst developed in Syria in the interwar years as a national liberation movement both against the French and the older Syrian urban notable class.

After World War II, it developed into a mass political movement with several distinctive features: It was pan-Arab (its members believed that all the postwar Arab states appearing in the aftermath of colonialism were really part of the greater Arab nation), socialist (they believed Arab wealth was for the Arab people), and anti-imperialist (Farouk-Sluglett and Sluglett 1987, 1990, 88–89). In Iraq, Baathism did not become an important strand of thought until the mid-1950s; even as late as the 1958 revolution, the party had only attracted several hundred members.

In fact, the Slugletts make the point that the main difference between Baathism in Iraq and in Syria was that the movement in Syria grew out of an original synthesis between Christian and Muslim intellectuals that was very much part of the specifi c social, cultural, and political makeup of the country, whereas in Iraq it never really put down roots in the larger context of Iraqi society (Farouk-Sluglett and Sluglett 1987, 1990, 91).

Throughout the Qasim and Aref years, the Baath Party in Iraq went through a series of transformations that taken together paved the way for its ultimate seizure of power in 1968. Interior Minister Ali Salih alSadi created a militant brand of Baathism in 1959 and was eventually brought to heel by Abdul-Salam Aref; the “conservative” wing of the Baath Party, including Hardan al-Tikriti and Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, fi rst allied itself with the Aref regime, then was summarily demoted and shunted from power by that same government.

Ultimately, the Baath Party, no less than any other mass movement in Iraq, was forced to go into hiding as a result of Abdul-Salam Aref’s increasingly severe attempts to consolidate his power. The party never completely spoke with one voice or acted in a concerted way in this period; from 1963 to 1968, party members formed cliques within cliques that often relied on personal, tribal, and geographical ties in order to solder a precarious unity.

So long as it projected an Arab nationalist outlook that drew recruits from various corners of the country, Baathist ideology was suffi ciently vague and adaptable to accommodate a number of disparate elements of the Iraqi population. As a result of this fl exibility and lack of internal rigidity, some Baathist cliques remained on speaking terms with the governments of both Abdul-Salam Aref and his brother AbdulRahman Aref.