The Rise of Resistance to the Baathist Regime and the Emergence of External Opposition

The Rise of Resistance to the Baathist Regime and the Emergence of External Opposition

From the mid-sixties onwards, movements of religious reform and political resistance began to emerge in Iraq. In 1979, after preliminary clashes escalated between the government and the fi rst Shii political party in Iraq, al-Daawa, resulting in the execution of the charismatic Daawa leader, Ayatollah Muhammad al-Sadr, as well as the persecution of his followers, the movement was not to be heard of again until it surfaced as a somewhat reluctant member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI).

Known thereafter by its initials, SCIRI was an Iranian-founded and Iran-based umbrella organization grouping three important Iraqi Shii clerical groups: the Marjaaiyya group under Muhammed Baqir al-Hakim, the Daawa group, and an independent coalition of Shii political activists (International Crisis Group 2007, n.p.). The three groups pledged to oust Saddam Hussein’s regime through military and political means and to replace it with an Islamic government.

Although Daawa organizers broke off relations with SCIRI almost immediately, the Daawa party continued its campaign of resistance and acts of subversion against the regime until its members were massively hunted down and all but destroyed by Baathist governments in the 1970s and 1980s. Still, the party survived under the leadership of various splinter groups until 2003, after which it regrouped to become an infl uential member of the American-infl uenced ruling class.

SCIRI, meanwhile, went from strength to strength. Funded and trained by the Iranians, its leaders (from the infl uential Hakim family) adopted the controversial Khomeinist ideology of the wilayat al-faqih which stipulated that the chief jurisprudent in Shii Islam can take on the role of a guardian jurist and that in the absence of the Hidden Twelfth Imam, the clergy should rule. Although some infl uential clerical members of the Daawa party had campaigned to turn this issue into a major plank of the party, it was not a doctrine that was easily accepted by the rank and fi le of Iraqi Shiis, many of whom were followers of the quietist school of Shii thought.

Nonetheless, after the Daawa party seceded from SCIRI, that same question was taken up by the Hakim family and became a defi ning principle for SCIRI-associated Iraqi exiles in Iran and later on, in Iraq itself. SCIRI also created a militia, the Badr Brigade, which carried out attacks across the Iranian border into Iraq. Funded, trained, and armed by the Iranian regime, it was estimated to have recruited 10,000 fi ghters by the late 1990s (Cole 2003).

Kurdish resistance movements had also long been rife in Iraq. Unlike those of the Shii opposition, however, the Kurds were able to stake out an important position after the 1991 war. While Iraqi government campaigns had accelerated the tempo of Iraqi military incursions into the Kurdish region at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, the Kurdish rebellion in the wake of the fi rst Gulf war, much like the Shii uprisings in the south and center of Iraq, set into motion a number of signifi cant developments.

First was the massive refugee crisis which occurred after the fl ight of thousands of Kurds to Turkey. Confronted with the approach of Iraqi troops into the still-fragile enclave of Iraqi Kurdistan, thousands of Kurds fl ed to the Turkish border in the rain and snow. Faced with a quandary in part generated by an international outcry, Coalition forces (the United States, the United Kingdom, and France) ultimately backed the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

As a result of the protection offered them by the creation of the “no-fl y zones,” Kurdish rebel leaders metamorphosed into incipient statesmen, with the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Massoud Barzani controlling Irbil in the north and the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Jalal Talabani, ensconcing himself in Suleymaniya, in the south. In June 1992, a Kurdish parliament opened its doors in Irbil, and in October of that same year, the Iraqi Kurds formed a Kurdish federal state.

However, this progress was not to last, as the leadership of the northern and southern districts of Iraqi Kurdistan continued to eye each other with suspicion. As a result of this mistrust, two parallel administrations emerged in the autonomous Kurdish region, and confl icts over territory and revenue eventually led to open warfare in December 1994. The war between the Kurdish chieftain, Barzani, and his more urbane rival, Talabani, was to continue until 1996, with thousands of Kurds killed in the process. Eventually, U.S. intervention brought about the end of the war, but relations remained tense for many months afterwards.

The Kurds “formally declared their desire to become part, in a postSaddam Iraq, of a federal state . . . this aspiration became a standard plank of the Kurdish parties’ political program as they engaged with the non-Kurdish Iraqi opposition groups, especially the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi, which accepted federalism as the solution to the Kurdish question” (International Crisis Group 2003, n.p.).

The Iraqi National Congress (INC) was formally inaugurated in Vienna in June 1992 when the two Kurdish leaders, Barzani and Talabani, joined almost 200 Iraqi delegates from opposition groups to create a coalition to fi ght the Baathist leadership in Baghdad.

Massively funded by the United States, the INC grouped parties of various ideological stripes, including SCIRI stalwarts, retired military offi cers, and Kurdish partisans. The INC, however, was dealt a strong blow when Iraqi troops overran its base in Salahuddin (Iraqi Kurdistan) in 1996; it is estimated that 200 of the INC’s men were captured and killed by the Iraqi forces and 2,000 arrested (Katzman 1998, n.p.).