First published in 1989, just before the Gulf War broke out, Republic of Fear was the only book that explained the motives of the Saddam Hussein regime in invading and annexing Kuwait. This edition, updated in 1998, has a substantial introduction focusing on the changes in Hussein's regime since the Gulf War.
In 1968 a coup d'état brought into power an extraordinary regime in Iraq, one that stood apart from other regimes in the Middle East. Between 1968 and 1980, this new regime, headed by the Arab Ba'th Socialist party, used ruthless repression and relentless organization to transform the way Iraqis think and react to political questions. In just twelve years, a party of a few thousand people grew to include nearly ten percent of the Iraqi population.
This book describes the experience of Ba'thism from 1968 to 1980 and analyzes the kind of political authority it engendered, culminating in the personality cult around Saddam Hussein. Fear, the author argues, is at the heart of Ba'thi politics and has become the cement for a genuine authority, however bizarre.
Examining Iraqi history in a search for clues to understanding contemporary political affairs, the author illustrates how the quality of Ba'thi pan-Arabism as an ideology, the centrality of the first experience of pan-Arabism in Iraq, and the interaction between the Ba'th and communist parties in Iraq from 1958 to 1968 were crucial in shaping the current regime.
Saddam Hussein's decision to launch all-out war against Iran in September 1980 marks the end of the first phase of this re-shaping of modern Iraqi politics. The Iraq-Iran war is a momentous event in its own right, but for Iraq, the author argues, the war diverts dissent against the Ba'thi regime by focusing attention on the specter of an enemy beyond Iraq's borders, thus masking a hidden potential for even greater violence inside Iraq.
Republic of Fear The Politics of Modern Iraq, Updated Edition, With a New Introduction
Institutions of Violence
The Secret PoliceSalim was about to sit down to dinner when the knock came. The two men did not come in or identify themselves. They confirmed Salim's identity and politely told him to accompany them for a few questions. His wife asked too loudly whether anything was wrong, what was the problem, they hadn't done anything, and so on. Salim reassured her as though he knew all about it; he stepped outside with the men, and gently pushed the door shut in her face. Salim remembered his hands turning clammy in the car, although it was not hot, and feeling his stomach had caved in on itself although he was no longer hungry. The car stopped at the local Amn headquarters.
In the early 1970s, Baghdad was divided into security zones, the planning of which required citizens to sell their properties in certain areas at a price set by the government. The headquarters of such zones were surveillance centres, routinely checking on movements within and between zones. Many a casual visitor to Baghdad has confirmed their surprising efficiency upon being questioned for taking snapshots of the Tigris at sunset, or some other such offence (cameras are sold in Iraq, but photography is suspect without the written authorization of the Ministry of Interior). Some of these centres are hooked to video cameras concealed on roof tops or built into statues and public monuments. The cameras cover the major roads, intersections, and roundabouts forming a comprehensive network for each zone and enabling the centre to monitor its area visually. Salim was escorted into such a building.
He remembered waiting for a long time. Although still ignorant of the reasons for his being there, he was becoming more and more afraid. Eventually he was ushered into an enormous office. Screen monitors dotted the entire space, and their flashing images impressed him more than anything else about the room. Whether they were there for effect or for function made little difference.
Salim was offered tea and spoken to politely throughout. An important-looking man, whose office this was and whose name he never found out, looked at some papers before him and asked where he had been on a particular day many months ago. Salim didn't remember. He listed a few license plate numbers, only one of which Salim recognized as being his own. Dates and numbers were now being combined into single questions, and Salim was becoming so frightened he could not retain the different parts of each question, much less put them together into a coherent answer. Finally he was caught out: the interrogator demanded to know how he could have been at work on that particular day if his car had been left at home. They knew he always drove to work.
Now it dawned on him. Those were the weeks he had been laid up with a leg fracture. When he was well enough to go to work, a cousin had picked him up in the mornings. The children were taken to school by someone else; and his wife had rearranged her schedule. These and other details could not tumble out of his mouth fast enough, and he caught himself saying nonsense but he did not think the important-looking man noticed. To his astonishment the explanation appeared acceptable; in fact it seemed to come as no surprise. More questions followed as though to pin down the matter, and then the interrogation was over. Relief covered Salim's face until the bombshell struck.
The important-looking man wanted Salim and his family to vacate their house within ten days—clothes, furniture, and all. Salim was to drop his keys at another office in the building and register his new address; he would be contacted when his story had been checked out. Further questions and polite remonstrations were ruled out; the man's demeanour began to show irritation. Salim was escorted to the street and returned home.
The house was vacated, and the keys delivered. Months later a telephone call from Salim's local Amn headquarters informed him that he could collect his keys from the office where he had deposited them and return to his house.
Not a single official piece of paper was profferred, or for that matter asked for. Salim, having recovered from the mechanics of his tribulations, shoved the matter aside as one might the weather or a natural disaster of some kind, and pressed on with his otherwise perfectly mundane life.
From the standpoint of ordinary citizens like Salim, the secret police rules in Iraq and is all-pervasive. The public perception of police omnipotence and omniscience is resisted as a topic in books on the post-1968 Ba'thi regime, in part because so little is known about these institutions. But they rest on a central truth of Iraqi politics.
All anyone has to work with regarding the secret police are a failed 1973 coup, a few passages from the 1974 Political Report, reports on documents leaked in 1979, the publicity surrounding overseas operations that go awry, the observations of a handful of informed outsiders, hints from indiscreet party members, individual experiences passed along by word of mouth, and finally a book written by a man reputed to be the new head of the Mukhabarat, the party intelligence network. Apart from a few published laws regulating movement and prescribing the multitude of permissions required of citizens, published information on the role and purpose of policing agencies does not exist. The only statistics on the police date back to the monarchy, and even these lump together traffic control with the repressive institutions of the state. Prior to the Ba'thist coup of 1968, a police tradition remotely comparable with today's did not exist.
From this limited pool of information, I surmise that the agency that Salim encountered in the late 1970s originated in a special unit of the Iraqi branch of the Arab Ba'th Socialist Party (ABSP) conceived in clan-destinity sometime between 1964 and 1966 and called al-Jihaz al-Khas, the special apparatus. Its code name was Jihaz Haneen, or the instrument of yearning. Haneen was a shadowy entity selected from the most committed cadre who became specialists in intelligence matters. These units of armed men were in the thick of events during the 1968 Ba'thi coup.
From the start Haneen was created as a party-based alternative power to that wielded by the officer cadres of the Ba'th and deriving from their strategic location in the state. The first Ba'thi regime in 1963 was overthrown when the military men of the party sided with fellow officers to oust the civilian Ba'thi National Guard. A similar occurrence in Syria left deep divisions throughout the Arab organization. In 1964 at the instigation of Michel 'Aflaq, the founder of the Ba'th, Saddam Husain was elevated into the Regional Command, the highest decision-making body of the Iraqi branch of the ABSP. This appointment marked a new beginning for the Ba'th in Iraq because Saddam Husain was the architect of Jihaz Haneen and always oversaw its various metamorphoses into the complex and ever-so-secret policing institutions of the second Ba'thi experience.
The first chief of Internal State Security was Nadhim Kzar, a 1969 appointee of Saddam Husain's. He was a hard and ascetic man who joined the party as a student in the 1950s and became one of the few Shi'is to occupy a position of real power. Kzar figured prominently in the excesses of the first, 1963 Ba'thi regime. He nurtured a reputation for ruthlessness and sadistic practices, which struck terror inside the party itself. For instance, he had a penchant for conducting interrogations personally and extinguishing his cigarette inside the eyeballs of his victims. Kzar invigorated an organization that was inefficient and subservient to army dictate between 1958 and 1968.
Under Kzar, the secret police was responsible for the torture and unpublicized killings of possibly a few thousand people, principally communists and Kurds. In 1971, for instance, one faction of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) issued a list with the names of 410 members who had died in the aptly named Qasr al-Nihayyah, Palace of the End. Kzar favoured settling the Kurdish question by force, and his agents attempted to assassinate Kurdish leader Mulla Mustapha al-Barazani at least twice. Both operations were undertaken shortly after the signing of the March 1970 autonomy accords, which, according to the Ba'th, were to bring peace and autonomy to the Kurdish people.
We know as much as we do about Nadhim Kzar's tenure as police chief because in July 1973 he was executed along with thirty-five others after a summary party tribunal presided over by members of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), the supreme authority in the post-1968 state (notionally elected from the Regional Command). Still, only a few facts were given by the regime, and clearly there is more behind the whole affair. Kzar took hostage the ministers of interior and defence and is said to have planned the assassination of the president, Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr. When this failed he attempted to flee with a loyal escort to the Iranian border. Cornered by his pursuers, he shot both ministers. The affair was used to instigate a widespread purge of the party.
The 1974 Political Report of the ABSP, an important benchmark for Ba'thi rule in Iraq, made an unusually frank assessment of previous Ba'thi practices; in particular it made this self-criticism of the Kzar reign in the secret police:
The state security service, though reinforced throughout by Party members and independent patriots, was an immense machine which, under previous regimes, had used blackmail against the party and other national movements, and thus had evolved a peculiar psychology. To reform it, to make it adopt new values and practices was therefore very difficult, it has indeed made serious mistakes during the period under review [1968-73], to the detriment of the Party's reputation and policy in various fields. . . . the leadership was at fault in allowing this sensitive organization to operate without rigorous and careful control. Some officers of this service abused the confidence placed in them by the Party, to the extent of conspiring against the Party, as in the plot of 30 June 1973. This criminal enterprise alerted the Party to the dangers of inadequate control, and extensive changes were made.The regime was badly shaken by the Kzar episode. Moreover, that a "peculiar psychology" had indeed surfaced in the new state security services became evident in the course of a bizarre series of crimes that occurred right after the purges mentioned in the Political Report. The crimes rattled the party almost as much as the coup. The Ba'th had taken great pride in the fact that the crime rate was down in Baghdad; Shurtat al-Najdah, the emergency police, was reputed to be able to arrive at any point in the city within minutes. But this confidence was visibly shaken by a succession of house robberies in which whole families were hacked to death. The perpetrator, nicknamed Abu al-Tubar, the hatchet man, ran a gang made up of old hands in the Kzar police service. It transpired at the trial that the gang's ability to elude capture derived from their knowledge and expert use of secret radio frequencies to mislead the police.
Kzar's coup and Abu al-Tubar's crimes were preceded by oil nationalization decrees (March 1973) and followed by the overthrow of the Allende government (September 1973). To readers not versed in the synthetic method of Ba'thism, these might seem like separable events. In a September 24th speech, however, Saddam Husain analysed the situation by contrasting Iraq and Cuba, which took imperialism by surprise, with Chile, where the "concealed reserves" of imperialism crushed the experiment:
We know that imperialism realised finally and particularly in 1972 that the Revolution in Iraq had gone past the state of the "permitted revolution" which it was accustomed to see in the countries of the Third World. . . .The speech was a restatement of the reasoning behind having a power-fill secret police at a time when confidence in the agency was at an all-time low. The "eyes" of the Revolution, the "unmasking" of enemies, and the various "preparations" can only be functions of an intelligence-gathering capability. Throughout, the stress is on what the Ba'th "know," or have "objective evidence" for. Such knowledge does not originate in loose talk and abstract ideological analysis, but from accurately monitoring the furtive movements of this thing, imperialism, and its "concealed reserves" inside Iraq; only a politically motivated police also working furtively can provide it.
We have objective evidence that imperialism was surprised by the many fundamental methods of the policy followed in this country. It had previously been surprised by several earlier experiences [in Cuba]. . . . However hard imperialism may now look for its concealed reserves [in Iraq] it will never be able to compel our Revolution to retreat and collapse. . . . Some people may imagine that the Revolution is unaware of what is happening around it. The Revolution has its eyes wide open. Throughout all its stages, the Revolution will remain capable of performing its role courageously and precisely without hesitation or panic, once it takes action to crush the pockets of the counter-revolution. All that we hear and read about, including those crimes which have taken place recently, are new devices to confront the Revolution and exhaust it psychologically. These are not sadistic crimes as some imagine; they are crimes committed by traitorous agents.
Those who have sold themselves to the foreigner will not escape punishment. . . . Those who are committing these deeds are individuals who have been hired and exploited in certain ways in the midst of the difficult phase through which we are passing. However, it is not enough to speak loosely about our forces' capabilities and concepts or about imperialism. We must know, learn, and accurately monitor the movements of imperialism. We must calculate with foresight the probable developments of its plans, forces and reserves both inside and outside our frontiers. We must be prepared. The plans, concepts, views, internal forces and reserves we used up to the 1st of March 1973, the day on which the monopolistic companies knelt down and recognized our nationalization, are no longer enough to confront imperialism with its newly conceived and developed plans. We know on this basis that when imperialism was surprised by the revolutionary moves and measures of 1972, it re-examined the situation in order to launch a counter-attack. Thus we prepared additional forces for which imperialism had not allowed in its plans. We can assure our patriotic brothers, . . . they will not make an Allende of us.
While notions of secrecy and conspiracy shade into one another in Saddam Husain's speech, a completely new conception of treason is highlighted. Treason is the magic word that brings together Abu al-Tubar's exploits and the outside world; it invests his crimes with a public significance they might not otherwise have had. For some countries, including pre-Ba'thi Iraq, treason was a more specific offence involving, for instance, selling state secrets to a foreign state, promoting a coup, or violating the person of the monarch. Punishment for treasonous acts when so defined was more procedural and lenient.
But now Ba'thist legitimacy derived from "the people" and the "Revolution" made in their name. The new state and its mission were virtually synonymous with "the Arab nation" or "the people," conceived as an undifferentiable collective noun. As it became harder for an individual to offend against this collectivity through specific acts (peoples have no secrets, nor do they have "bodies" except in the form of tired metaphors), it became easier to offend against the idea of its sovereignty. In the Ba'thist mind, violating the whole "people" was an even more monstrous version of old-fashioned treason; it assaulted their source of authority, much as a coup attempt assaulted the authority of the individuals at the helm of state. Somehow we have all come to feel that an affront to the dignity of "the people" is worse than an affront to yet another seedy regime, however little it may mean politically. Another type of regime, less entangled in the embrace of so many people, might have shunned this association between Abu al-Tubar's actions and treason, not least because he and his cronies had been state functionaries. Such a regime would choose to prosecute on criminal, not treasonous grounds. But all the people were genuinely terrified by Abu al-Tubar and his actions; and the more they talked about it, the more frightened they became. An unprecedented situation had to be accounted for; a reason for this fear had to be found that would ultimately justify Ba'thism, and not turn into the focus of attacks on it. Saddam Husain set out to find that reason working from conviction and not from cynical intent.
His speech was designed to make treason grow more vague and abstract; now it could be found in people's thoughts, not only their deeds. At the same time its monstrousness was made palpable and concrete through Abu al-Tubar's sadism. This thinking derived from Ba'thist ideology and was of course consistent with broader twentieth-century ideological trends, originating in Europe at the turn of the century. In light of the precedents that culminated in the interwar years in fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, Saddam Husain was an imitator, not an innovator. Nonetheless, his legacy has already been assured by the consistency and determination with which he brought such trends to bear inside Iraq. Above all, his particular achievement was the placement of an inordinate emphasis on a revised conception of political crime, one that made it ever more loose and all-inclusive. Treason in his hands was a much larger offence, directed at the whole people, and a much less specific one. Once treason was ensconced in this fashion, police work logically became the substitute for all politics.
In the following year, the Political Report placed the blame for Kzar's actions on "some officers" and the inherited bureaucracy of the service. This contention was less tenable than Saddam Husain's because it presented itself in too factual a guise, eschewing the appeal of a teleological explanation of human affairs. After all, who was Kzar if not the creature of the party that had spawned him? Was the psychological profile mentioned in the Political Report an old or new phenomenon? Are men like Nadhim Kzar and Abu al-Tubar not mirror images of one another? Is it any wonder that the cronies of the one were the cronies of the other?
But where are the same sort of questions for those who are already motivated by faith in abstractions like imperialism, the ubiquity of its presence, concealed reserves, and a politics singularly confined to the distinction between treason and virtue? There are none, because all facts are necessarily buried in the secrecy required by the explanation. A strong and secret police provides the only way to "be prepared" and get at the facts that are needed to defeat imperialism. Even asking a question about Abu al-Tubar thus becomes grounds for casting suspicion of treacherous intent on the part of the questioner.
If the aftermath of the Kzar affair suggests a police going out of control, the background to the story highlights important institutional tensions that became manifest in the new regime because of the escalating power of the police.
Kzar's formal position was ambiguous. He had been granted a military title without ever having been in the army (later Saddam Husain would do the same without the resentments that had accompanied Kzar). In a country that had been ruled by army officers (1958-68), it was still deemed necessary to have the appearance of an army man in charge of the police. Kzar's department was theoretically under the combined jurisdiction of the interior and defence ministers whom he had taken hostage; however, his party rank greatly exceeded that of the two men, both of whom were officers who had hitched their fortunes to the rising star of the party after 1968. Moreover, Kzar was known to harbour resentments against the growing Sunni domination of the party, and had been arguing for restriction of all ministerial appointments to members of the Regional Command (the ministers taken hostage were not on this body and owed their position in the state to their services during the coup). He wanted a purge of all rightists and careerists in the party.
Alongside Kzar's problems with his ministers, a conflict was brewing between the head of the Ba'th Military Bureau (executed with Kzar) and the same defence minister who had disregarded a number of directives coming from the bureau. In short, a conflict of authority between party and state had arisen. This translated in the conditions of the early years of Ba'thist rule into a power struggle between an increasingly assertive secret police and the long-standing political authority of the army. Kzar's failure suggested that this conflict was being resolved in favour of the army and to the detriment of the civilian wing of the party. But even if true, it proved to be a temporary outcome.
Saddam Husain, then assistant secretary-general of the ABSP and deputy chairman of the RCC, was Kzar's immediate party superior. Probably his position weakened for a while, as rumours circulated that he was behind Kzar. The provisional constitution, for instance, was quickly amended to give the president, Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, much greater powers. Bakr's credentials were well-suited for a resolution of the crisis. He was secretary-general of the Ba'th Regional Command from 1965, a party man from its earliest and most isolated days, and its most respected member since 1964 when his elevation into the leadership brought the internal factional struggles to an end. Moreover, he was a much respected former member of the Free Officers organization that overthrew the monarchy in 1958. These qualities combined in no other person in Iraq.
Bakr assumed control of the Ministry of Defence, thus alleviating the further escalation of party-army tensions. Saddam Husain's position could not have eroded all that much, in part because he had close family connections to Bakr (both are Takritis from the same tribal subsection, related yet again through marriage). The pair also had a close working relationship since 1964 when they forged a leadership team based on Saddam's control of the party, and Bakr's prestige in the country and army. Yet all of this might not have been enough to save Saddam were it not for three steps taken by him in the course of the Kzar affair.
First, he implicated his most popular rival in the party, 'Abd al-Khaliq al-Samarra'i, a leading ideologue considered the third most powerful man in the country (after Bakr and Saddam). Samarra'i was tried on the flimsiest of evidence, but Bakr refused to ratify his execution order. He was imprisoned, only to be summarily shot in 1979, after Bakr himself was purged.
Second, Saddam acted decisively to resolve the confusion that had spread through the ranks of the party militia, many of whose local commanders were torn between loyalties to Kzar, party bosses further up the line, and the authority of their state against which Kzar was clearly aligned. Saddam personally took command of loyal units of this militia, gave these a high visibility in Baghdad, used them in hot pursuit of Kzar, and sealed and stormed suspected Kzar strongholds. The army was excluded. However weakened the secret police may have been by whatever happened in June-July 1973, the army's political position had at the very least been checked by Saddam's resolute actions. Under his leadership the party put its own house in order.
Third, Saddam Husain administered the restructuring of the secret police by himself. The institution that Salim and his family encountered originated in this overhaul. The outcome was three agencies, independently responsible to the RCC.
1. The Amn or State Internal Security, Kzar's old department, was transformed and modernized. By the end of 1973 Saddam Husain had hammered out a secret intelligence agreement with Andropov, then head of the KGB, on the strength of certain clauses in the Iraqi-Soviet Friendship Treaty signed in 1972 (also negotiated by Saddam Husain). The agreement, leaked to the West by dissident Ba'this after the 1979 purges, provided for a) reorganization of all aspects of internal security on the recommendations of the KGB; b) supply of sophisticated surveillance and interrogation equipment; c) training for Iraqi personnel in KGB and GRU (Military Intelligence) schools in the Soviet Union; d) exchange of intelligence information; and e) provision of assistance by Iraqi embassy personnel to Soviet agents operating in countries where the Soviet Union has no diplomatic relations.
2. The Estikhbarat, or Military Intelligence, controls most of the operations against Iraqi or other nationals resident abroad. It employs embassy personnel, in particular the military attache's office. Presumably it has a brief for duties inside the army, but no information is available on this.
In 1979 a forty-page document by Khalil al-Azzawi, director of operations of the Estikhbarat, was also leaked. The Strategic Work Plan set the goals of the overseas branch of the agency. These read like something out of a cheap thriller. For example, the military attache's office, say in London, is instructed to provide regular reports on "nuclear, bacteriological and chemical warfare institutions and installations, giving as detailed information as possible on their capacities and stockpiles." Within this rubric the document demands information on particular experiments, cross-country cooperation, data on the "personal tendencies" of individual scientists who work in these institutions, and full specifications of naval bases accompanied by plans and aerial photographs.
In a separate section of the Work Plan on NATO, Ba'thist agents are instructed to uncover no less than the "structure of NATO's forces. . . . Its air, land and sea bases throughout the world, and particularly in the Mediterranean area. The armaments of its conventional and nuclear forces. The objectives of its forces in the Middle East, and their movements." Iraqi agents are recommended tactics that "suggest that the authors of the plan are not convinced that their men in foreign capitals will know how to buy a newspaper unless every detail of the transaction is spelled out for them."
Still one should not dismiss such agencies too lightly. After Saddam Husain threatened in February 1980 that "the hand of the revolution can reach out to its enemies wherever they are found," several opposition leaders were assassinated in Beirut and at least one attempt was made in Paris. The Estikhbarat assassinated Abdul Razzaq al-Nayef in London and provided training and logistical support for the Iranian London embassy siege in May 1980. Their involvement in the assassinations of Palestinian leaders by the Abu Nidhal group through 1980 is also likely. When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) tried to return the favour to Abu Nidhal while he was undergoing medical treatment in a London hospital in 1979, they could not get at him because "the Iraqis had turned the hospital into a fortress."
The Guardian exposed an agent of the Estikhbarat as having been the ringleader of the attack on Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador to London, an event that provided the pretext for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and also revealed the existence of six separate death squads sent from Baghdad to murder Iraqi political exiles in Egypt. "Death lists" uncovered in Britain prompted a Home Office investigation and demands for the protection of Iraqi students whose names were on the lists. Ba'th is also suspected in the death of Napolean Bashi, an anti-Ba'th journalist of Iraqi origin assassinated in Detroit on January 11, 1983, and three other assassinations in the Detroit area between 1977 and 1980 (one student, two recent immigrant activists). Prominent non-Iraqi personalities, like Ismet Vanly, a Swiss national of Kurdish origin, have also been the target of assassination attempts.
Another ominous example of the methods of the Estikhbarat, is the case of Hans Melin, chief of the police immigration unit in Sweden. Melin was arrested on February 5, 1979, for passing classified information to Iraqi embassy officials, three of whom were expelled from Sweden that day. Melin had access to the files of some 150,000 foreign nationals living in Sweden among whom were many Kurdish political refugees. Collating information, particularly on Kurds resident in "target countries," featured prominently in the Strategic Work Plan. Another foreign official, Norwegian diplomat Arne Treholt, was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and Iraq and sentenced to twenty years.
3. The Mukhabarat or Party Intelligence, the most powerful and feared agency among the three, is a meta-intelligence organization designed to watch over the other policing networks and control the activities of state and corporate institutions like the army, government departments, and the mass organizations (youth, women, and labour). A section of the Mukhabarat called the Special Security Section commands the armed party militia headed by Saddam's younger brother and Sa'doun Shakir, a member of the Regional Command. The Mukhabarat developed directly out of Jihaz Haneen, Saddam's creation during his years in the political wilderness. The paucity of information at our disposal on this institution makes it impossible to establish what relation, if any, Nadhim Kzar had to it, and whether it played a role in the 1973 affair. Nonetheless, in Ba'thist affairs political weight increases with secrecy. To the best of my knowledge, the only published acknowledgment of the Mukhabarat's existence are two paragraphs in the 1974 Political Report:
At the beginning of the Revolution, the Party undertook to build a special security apparatus [jihaz khas], at first known as the General Relations Bureau, later as the General Intelligence Department [Da'irat al-Mukhabarat al-'Amah]. It also tightened its control over the Security and Police services [al-'Amn wa al-Shurtah] by appointing Party members or independent patriots to sensitive posts inside them, and by reorganizing and reeducating these services in accordance with the concepts of the Revolution and the requirements of the new stage.Unlike other policing agencies, the Mukhabarat is a distinctly political body, not merely a professional organ of the state charged with safeguarding national security. Its first members combined professional inexperience with political knowledge, not mere loyalty. We are told that their abilities and skills as agents originated in how political they were, not how unqualified they may still have been in the subtler aspects of, say, modern electrical stimulation techniques.
This special security apparatus, manned entirely by Party members, has in the last few years been a model of efficiency, loyalty to the leadership, and precision in accomplishing its party security tasks. Although the personnel of this apparatus has no formal experience of security work before the Revolution, these comrades learned the arts of this work through absorbing certain aspects of the party's activities before the takeover of power through trial and error. They proved highly efficient in unmasking foreign and internal plots, and in repressing and liquidating them. This apparatus also played a crucial role in liquidating the espionage networks.
To sum up: under Kzar, the Amn conducted its operations with the brutishness that characterized Ba'thist behaviour in 1963 when untrained National Guard thugs, operating out of improvised headquarters, picked up anyone denounced as a communist or Qassem sympathizer. In 1968 these methods were reworked using the old state security apparatus headed by Ba'thist appointees. The Ba'th were small and, as the 1974 Political Report makes clear, had a hard time filling important state posts with technically competent cadres. In such a setup when a boss like Kzar went sour, the whole enterprise was threatened.
In Saddam Husain's reorganization, the boss became a faceless party bureaucrat. The new system was less brittle, more complex and nuanced; instead of one big chief, it embraced a whole hierarchy of bosses controlling those below and keeping an ever watchful eye on those above. The result was virtually absolute control by the party through its own intelligence and the formalization of a system of spying on spies. Any distinctions between the Amn and the Mukhabarat under Kzar were soon blurred. All policing agencies under the Ba'th today are political, in the sense just described. The party has consumed the state, rather than the reverse. Liveliness is maintained in the system through a permanent condition of fear and insecurity that grips not only the people being serviced, but the personnel of the secret police themselves at every level of authority. Privileges and large financial bonuses can be showered upon lowly agents or their bosses at one moment, and revoked the next. The strange world of experiences that enveloped Salim and his family is also the norm inside the very institutions that ensnared them.
Our final piece of evidence on the secret police comes from a book by Dr. Fadhil al-Barak on Jewish and Iranian schools in Iraq, published in 1984. Rumour has it that Barak was appointed the new head of the Mukhabarat after the ouster of Saddam's half-brother, Barazan al-Takriti, in 1982. If true, his appointment speaks volumes on the scope of the reorganization undertaken by Saddam Husain; gone are chiefs whose qualifications originated in pure thuggery, and even family ties have been shunted aside. Instead, we have the true intellectual, an author who continues to write even as he presides over the most demanding job.
Barak draws attention to the unique scientific opportunities made possible to him by his personal experience as an academic and member of the party, and "by virtue of the position which I am honoured to be responsible for." His book was published on the direct authority of the Diwan of the Presidency and draws its material from extensive police files all carefully referenced in the bibliography. No matter how one looks at it, this is an intellectual effort of the secret police and demonstrates a capability that no such agency ever had before in Iraq. The idea for the book, Barak says, originated in a 1979 speech by Saddam Husain that drew attention to the "social and political means of sabotage practised by evil expansionist forces inside Iraq." Saddam singled out education as the preferred arena for the "mental and spiritual enslavement" of Iraqi youth by forces that included Iranian and Jewish schools in Iraq.
The study notes that Jewish and Iranian schools were conceived to achieve long-range political goals. In the case of Iraqi Jewry, Zionist sources prove that since the seventh century B.C. , the yearning for the land of Zion "was the principal force which suffused the soul" of every Iraqi Jew in every historical period, leading them to side with the British during the various stages of their presence in Iraq. For the modern period, Barak relies on the anti-Semitic forgery of the Tzarist police, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Freemasonry, he says, was the crucial link between the ambitions of the world Zionist leadership, British imperialism, and the activities of local Iraqi Jews in the service of this foreign triumvirate. But Freemasonry itself was led by the same Elders who had signed the Zionist protocols in Basle, Switzerland. They conspired to use education in the form of false ideas as the principal means by which to spread the conspiracy against Iraq. Barak's secret-police sources show that "on the road to executing the Zionist plan for the occupation of Palestine, Iraqi Jewish schools placed great and vigorous attention, albeit indirect, on education in military and espionage affairs." A similar tale is spun about an Iranian fifth column, which is deemed to have been conspiring against the Arabism of Iraq since 539 B.C.
Policemen the world over read events in their own image, and the pan-Arab vision of history as the conspiratorial machinations of outsiders was done more professionally by an earlier generation of ideologues. Barak is a policeman for whom history is merely the contextual backdrop to his real job, and it takes up a mere 10 percent of his nearly three hundred pages. What then is the main purpose of this book?
Fundamentally Barak is in the business of naming people and making lists. He provides personal information in written or tabular form on teachers, administrators, and employees in Iranian schools in Iraq (553 names accompanied by all personal particulars); a discussion attempting to establish the foreign origin of these people; a listing of every Jewish and Iranian school since Ottoman times with a history of each including numbers of graduates in various years; the names of the benefactors or trustees of these schools; the names of Jews accused of terrorism or spying for Zionism and their relationship to the Jewish schools; the names of individuals who crossed the Iranian border generations ago and illegitimately obtained Iraqi nationality for the express purpose of occupying key positions of influence in government, commerce, and the opposition; the property holdings of these "economic saboteurs"; their role in financing the fundamentalist Da'wah party in recent years; a discussion on how 140 people of Iranian origin who had infiltrated the Central Bank and other financial institutions went about sabotaging the economy; the numbers of Jewish and Iranian merchants in different periods, classified by type of merchandise, locale, and influence on the economy; the conspiracy that led Jewish merchants to sell out to Iranian merchants in the early 1950s in Iraq; the names and activities of Zionist and Iranian secret societies; a table listing personal information on 245 Jewish members of the ICP; and so on.
Names belong to families in Iraq, not individuals; hence, we must keep in mind that the numbers of people implicated by such a book is far greater than the 1000 or so fully identified individuals. Moreover, when Barak fixes a number—for example, he says there were 3,245 Iranian merchants in Baghdad alone in the 1970—sone must assume the existence of files on 3,245 families, all of whose members are deemed part of a much larger community of fifth columnists. Barak himself emphasizes that fifth columnists placed their children and other relations in strategic locations where they could do the most damage.
This effort at sorting, naming, and classifying people must be set against the background of successive waves of deportations carried out by the Ba'th. The first of these involved about 40,000 Shi'i Kurds (called Faylis) in 1971-72. This community was a minority inside a minority and could even be excluded for being "Iranians" because they lived in the border areas. In the second half of the 1970s, up to 200,000 more people deemed to be of "Iranian origin" were denounced as fifth columnists and a spearhead for Iranian ambitions inside Iraq. These deportations started before the Iraq-Iran war, and the evidence suggests that the people involved were Arabic speaking. Barak himself implicitly admits this by telling us that many carried the Iraqi nationality obtained "illegally for the most part." For some, this "fact" confirmed by Barak might be the cause of legal or moral anguish; but for him it is definitive proof of how insidious and far-reaching the real intentions of these people were. By way of illustration he provides short biographies but does not even bother to construct an individually tailored "proof" of treacherous intent and behaviour. Presumably this is given by the ideological "analysis" with which he embarked on his study. Here is a typical saboteur:
The Iranian Ibrahim Muhammad: He entered the country in 1954, working at first as a porter [hammal] in the Shawrjah district. He began buying and selling empty wooden boxes and jute sacks. He joined up with an acquaintance to open a small shop behind the Damirchi building. After 1958 he worked as a tea importer. His business grew because of monopolistic practices with a special kind of tea that was very popular at the time, called Abu Ghazalah. He used false religious practices as a cloak to expand his influence and cover up his illegal practices. He used to hold pageant mourning ceremonies in his enormous house in the 'Utayfiyyah district. Before his deportation he owned 100,000 dinars and a large house worth another 100,000 dinars as well as a new Mercedes Benz 280S model.A distinction must be made between a secret police whose very existence assumes the presence of a genuine criminal or political counter part, and one that does not. In the case of the American FBI and CIA, or even the defunct Iranian SAVAK and the Egyptian Mukhabarat, somebody had to be out there, however many lies were spread around about what they were really doing or intended to do. Even the actions of agents provocateurs who "make" the crimes they blame on others presuppose that arrest and punishment on the grounds of suspicion alone are insufficient.
By contrast the post-1975 secret police in Iraq invent their enemies. They do not behave as provocateurs because their victims no longer have to do anything to become suspects. Real organized political opposition had been done away with by the time the secret police emerged as the most powerful institution in Iraq. The Kurds were crushed in 1975 following the Algiers accord; and the leaders of the ICP, their organization a shell of its former self, were booted out of the offices they had been given in return for recognizing the Ba'th in 1973 as the vanguard party of a socialism they had once championed.
Today, suspects do not have to do anything to be victimized. They are "chosen by the revolution" as Saddam put it in 1978:
The revolution chooses its enemies, and we say chooses its enemies because some enemies are chosen by it from among the people who run up against its program and who intend to harm it. The revolution chooses as enemies those people who intend to deviate it from its main principles and starting points. As for those people who protect the revolution, they are chosen by it to be friends.It is not unreasonable, therefore, to inform future suspects who "intend" harm of what lies in store for them. Barak tells us that his book is only the first instalment. Apparently another volume is planned on "the presence of other foreign schools which played a despicable role in our society—the American schools, Hikma university and other schools and institutes—by alienating the Iraqi from his inner self for the purpose of weakening the moral spirit of our nation." Turning ideological fiction into reality is a truly Herculean task.
In the end Salim was wrong; the secret police do not actually rule contemporary Iraq. They merely appear to do so because they alone enjoy the full confidence of the highest political authority. In fact they are the executors of this authority's most cherished policies; this is what distinguishes the Ba'thist secret police from other less-trusted institutions. Barak did not choose whom to cast as the internal enemy; this was given by Ba'thist ideology as articulated by the Leader, Saddam Husain. However, he did translate a general ideological proposition that might have gone unnoticed into lists of names. By this act he gave shape to the enemy. Henceforth, the public would know whom to shun and finger, and, more important, every citizen would know that suspects always existed, even for crimes that had not yet been committed. This gave substance to what Saddam had said in 1979 and, hence, "proved" his perspicacity, which was that much in advance of all knowable facts. No policing bureaucracy under any previous Iraqi regime had come even close to such a remarkable accomplishment.
The ArmyFor six decades the Iraqi army acted as an agent for internal repression. Before the Iraq-Iran war, its only engagement with a foreign power was in May 1941 when the army failed to repulse a small British force that invaded Iraq. Contributions to Arab-Israeli wars have been nil (1956), or purely token (1948 and 1967). In the October 1973 war, two divisions and a part of the air force fought on the Syrian front; but the bulk of the army was held back for deployment against Iraqi Kurds. Much has been made by the regime of its contribution to the October war, largely to conceal the embarrassing inaction of its units in Jordan during the September 1970 war against the Palestinian movement. Since independence the only army successes have been against tribesmen and defenceless civilians, events that have formed the mentality of the Iraqi officer corps in a very specific way. The Arab world's first military coup in 1936 was led by Bakr Sidqi, the Iraqi officer who had instigated and directed the massacre of the Assyrian community three years before. A succession of coups followed until the British attack in 1941. The monarchy then reasserted control by breaking up the armed forces. In 1941, there were 1,745 officers and 44,217 soldiers; by 1943 hundreds of officers had been imprisoned or pensioned, and the soldiery was down to 30,000, two-thirds of whom were deserters. In the decade following the 1948 war, the armed forces were modernized once again. But, as long as the conditions that brought the army into politics remained, it seemed no amount of purging was enough. Many of the principal actors in post-1958 Iraqi politics were men who had escaped the purges of 1941. 'Abd al-Karim Qassem, the prime mover behind the monarchy's overthrow in 1958, had served as a soldier under Sidqi whom he greatly admired; Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, the president under the second Ba'thi regime, had joined the army in 1938 and graduated from the Military Academy in 1942.
Between 1958 and 1968 there were more than ten coups and attempted coups, two armed rebellions, and a semicontinuous civil war against the Kurds. Military men held between 25 and 35 percent of all cabinet posts and "monopolized from one-half to two-thirds of the top policy-making positions. The three presidents of the republic, all prime ministers except one, all vice-presidents except one, almost all ministers of interior and defense, and many ministers of information have been ex-military men." Officers were appointed to run the State Industrial Organization, factories, and act as undersecretaries to the Ministry of Industry. Such men took over key positions straight from the barracks, on the basis of a lifetime experience limited to training manoeuvres, bawling out recruits, and killing other Iraqis. With the exception of Bakr and a few other officers, they did not pass through political parties, much less civil service bureaucracies. Between 1958 and 1966, the army doubled its budget, while expenditure on development projects remained stationary or declined. Expenditure on the army increased in direct proportion to the decline in military professionalism, a decline brought into sharp focus by the 1967 war. The malaise highlighted by the six-day war played an important role in the Ba'thist critique of the military regime, contributing to its overthrow and the installation of the second Ba'thi regime in 1968.
What happened to the army under the second Ba'thi regime? Through the mid-1970s, the army's principal function of internal repression was accentuated by a major escalation in the levels of violence directed at the Kurds, which took on "the character of a racist war of extermination" in the words of the Kurdish Democratic Party. One incident at the village of Dakan in the province of Mosul on August 8, 1969, was brought to the attention of the United Nations: sixty-seven women and children were knowingly burnt alive in a cave where they had sought refuge from artillery shelling.
The last phase of the Kurdish war broke out in March 1974. In the first month the towns of Zakho (population 25,000), and Qala'at Diza (20,000) were razed to the ground. Planes napalmed and bombed Kurdish villages and districts systematically. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled the plains and their towns for refuge in the mountains, including teachers, workers, doctors, lawyers, schoolchildren, and whole families Waves of arrests, deportations, summary executions (for instance, five Kurdish students at Baghdad University), assassinations, and public hangings (eleven Kurdish dignitaries in Erbil) immediately followed the outbreak of hostilities. Apart from the thousands of combatant casualties during the one-year war, Turkish news sources claimed that up to five thousand women, children, and men too old to fight died in the scramble to escape Iraqi Kurdistan following the collapse of the resistance. One thousand Pesh Merga fighters were shot down in cold blood after surrendering to government troops. Yet more refugees poured into Iran.
'Ali Abbas was a Pesh Merga, a soldier in Mustafa Barazani's rebel army. Along with thousands of his comrades he fled to Iran with the collapse of the revolt. He ended up in Isfahan as a hunting companion for Iranian officers. But there he named his new-born daughter Ghariba, Stranger, and when in August this year the Iraqi government renewed its offer of an amnesty he decided to return home. His, and some 20 other families, only just made it. . . .The measure of a regime of terror is the victims of its peace, not the casualties of its wars. Kurdish resistance crumbled following the abrupt withdrawal of the Shah's support in the wake of the March 1975 Algiers accords with Iran. And the army was now going to carry out the party policy of mass Kurdish deportations to the southwestern desert region of Iraq. Families of Kurds were bundled up in army trucks and transported to large hastily improvised camps or to Arab villages west of the Euphrates where they were settled in small groups. In areas designated for deportations by the "Higher Committee for the Affairs of the North," presided over by Saddam Husain, troops placed the villagers on trucks to be carried off at night in long caravans along sealed routes. Having reached their destinations families were supplied with a tent, and grouped in fives in so-called villages. Movement was prohibited except for official business. The men were assigned jobs at a fixed pay.
He had a weary and hunted look about him as he crossed. He knew that the Iraqi government had been deporting thousands of homecoming Kurds to the deep, exclusively Arab south. But, as he told the official "reception committee," the risk he deemed himself to be running was not just that; it was detention, torture, or even execution. Such, he said, were the fears of all returnees. He obviously could not quite believe official assurances that the fears were groundless, and that he would be dispatched, that very day, to his own village.
Eighty-five percent of all those Kurds and their families who returned to Iraq on the strength of the general amnesty, or who were driven out by the Shah's troops, were sent to these desert camps. The Ba'th tried to relocate all Kurds from the provinces of Diyala (the districts of al-Sa'diyya, Khanaqin, Shahraban, Mandali), Kirkuk (Kifri, Tuzkhurmatu), and Mosul (Safin, Sinjar, 'Ain Zaleh). Stories began filtering out of soldiers serving in these camps who broke down in emotion at the sight of this proud mountain people scrambling in the dust after the water trucks trundling along prescribed routes and doling out the precious liquid in officially prescribed amounts. The number of people affected by this policy will not be known until the files are opened. Estimates range from 50,000 given by The Economist, in an article that praised the Ba'th for "being generous with internal reforms," to 300,000 to 350,000 given by Kurdish and Iraqi opposition sources. That a crime of this magnitude is still shrouded in ambiguity speaks volumes on the nature of the Ba'thi regime.
But the army that carried out parry policy in the second half of the 1970s was different from the one that waltzed in and out of governments in the 1960s. It had metamorphosed into a creature of the Ba'th party. Three things account for this.
The first change was the comprehensive series of purges of all influential high-ranking officers. The purges began with those outside the party and potentially least enthusiastic about the new regime (Nayef, Daud, Ansari, Uqaili); then affected party members whose power had originated in the armed forces (Hardan al-Takriti, 'Ammash, Naqib, Nasrat); and finally reached Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr himself and his supporters in 1979. Out of thirty-five names, at least sixteen were officers of the highest rank. The sequence, therefore, graphically depicts the stages of the institutionalization of the Ba'th in Iraq.
Purging the first group was a foregone conclusion; one can but stand in awe at the naivet of officers like Nayef and Daud who played an important role in the overthrow of the 'Aref regime, had no intention of becoming Ba'thists, and actually believed Ba'thist promises. Among the second group, the crucial link was Hardan al-Takriti who served as commander of the air force in the 1963 Ba'thi regime and became chief of staff and minister of defence in 1968. Like Bakr and Saddam Husain, he came from the town of Takrit. In 1963 he sided against the civilian leadership of his own party. The device employed in his ouster was the encouragement of rivalry between him and 'Ammash, another very prominent Ba'thi officer in charge of the Ministry of Interior. The civilian wing of the party, instigated by Saddam Husain, backed 'Ammash, the weaker personality of the two. With the exacerbation of tensions, Bakr became convinced of the need to assert his own leadership in the interests of party unity. 'Ammash and Takriti were both appointed vice-presidents on April 3, 1970. This outward promotion concealed their loss of the two most sensitive positions in the state (Defence and Interior). The coup-de-grace was delivered to Takriti while he was abroad in the form of a dismissal and an ambassadorial appointment, which he contemptuously rejected (later purgees learnt the wisdom of swallowing their pride). Shortly after, he was gunned down in Kuwait by four assailants who were never caught. Other officer Ba'thists fell more easily. Purges of junior officers and even soldiers were also common in the early years. A party member once confided to David Hirst that "when I saw hundreds of professional soldiers being dismissed, I was worried about our army's fighting abilities, but the October war and the campaign against the Kurds showed how wrong I was."
The 1974 Political Report drew this balance sheet of the policy of purges inside the armed forces:
From the earliest days, the Party had urgently . . . to consolidate its leadership in the armed forces; to purge them of suspect elements, conspirators and adventurers; to cultivate Pan-Arab and socialist principles among the soldiers; to establish the ideological and military criteria which would enable the armed forces to do their duty as well as possible and would immunize them against the deviations which the Kassem and Arif regimes and their military aristocrats had committed in the army's name; and thus to integrate the armed forces with the people's movement, directed by the Party.The second change leading to the consolidation of the party was the establishment of a new system of accountability in which party men could thwart the orders of their senior non-Ba'thist officers if they suspected them. Party members who generally had secondary-school education received intensive training at the Military College for six, twelve, or twenty-four months, depending on their location in the military hierarchy. Inside the army they remained under discipline not to carry out important orders without party approval. The officer elite was atomized by this parallel authority, and its ability to maintain a group identity not subordinated to party policy disintegrated.
The Party has managed in the last few years to install its own, very substantial and effective organization in the armed forces. Supervised by the Party leadership, it has played its part as an avant-garde. Our military comrades have given proof of their discipline and of the most staunch and enlightened loyalty to the Party. They have engaged in large-scale activity in ideology and organization in order m strengthen and extend the Party's infrastructure, so that now the Party has a vigorous vanguard which, in collaboration with patriotic officers and soldiers, constitutes the Revolution's arm and its eyes watching over the country and the people's victories.The third change was to separate ideology from the military. Comprehensive party organization robbed officers of the opportunity to see themselves as surrogates and guardians of a national identity otherwise in jeopardy. In addition to the purges and reorganizations, the degree of Ba'thist social organization profoundly undermined the historic rationale that had led officers into Iraqi politics time and again since independence. The Military Academy was now restricted to Ba'th party members. Officers who were anything less than totally committed to the party were pensioned off. Any political activity not conducted through the ABSP was a capital offence. 'Afaq 'Arabiyya, a theoretical Ba'thi journal published in Baghdad summed up the policy:
The insistence on restricting political work in the armed forces solely to the ABSP . . . springs from the fact that only their loyalty to the ABSP by itself will guarantee the maintenance of the unity of the armed forces and the performance of their national and patriotic duty. In addition it will close the road in front of those elements opposed to the people. . . .The mere fact of a soldier's membership in what might be construed as a political organization, irrespective of actual engagement in political activity, has been a capital offence for many years now. This may have been the grounds for the 1976 executions of soldiers accused of being in the ICP. The death penalty was also decreed for any member of the military or police establishment whose service terminated "after 17 July, 1968 if his relation or work [after termination] is proved for the account or interest of any party or political authority except the Ba'th Socialist Party." Virtually any breach involving the army or the police, including not reporting back on time from leave, incurred the death penalty. Finally, to have ever been a member of another party (after 1968), while serving in what is after all the conscript army, is a capital offence—a law that had to have been broken all the time.
For all these reasons the Revolution and its leadership is vigilant to prevent any political element, including those in the Progressive Front [in government with the Ba'th], from activity inside the armed forces. We say from the start: "There is no front in the armed forces." Legitimate political activity inside them is solely the province of the ABSP, and execution is the revolutionary and just punishment which will be brought down on all those inside the army who work politically and are not militants of the Leader Party, the ABSP.
In 1971 Saddam Husain expressed the hope that "with our party methods, there is no chance for anyone who disagrees with us to jump on a couple of tanks and overthrow the government. These methods have gone." In a rare 1982 interview granted to the West German journal Stern , he could take the new situation for granted:
STERN : It is known that your Excellency is not satisfied with the Iraqi military command. Is it true that in the recent period 300 high-ranking military officers have been executed?
HUSAIN : No. However, two divisional commanders and the commander of a mechanized unit were executed. This is something very normal in all wars.
STERN : For what reason?
HUSAIN : They did not undertake their responsibilities in the battle for Muhammara [Khorramshahr]. The executions mentioned by the Stern reporter belong to a new generation of purges, motivated not by ideological or power-grabbing criteria but by the issue of efficiency. Before the fall of Muhammara/Khorramshahr, rumours spread among Iraqis of massive purges among officers involved in the first setbacks. One story concerns an officer who gave the order for a tactical retreat from some position because he could not stomach mowing down waves of fanatical teenage revolutionary guards. The man was hauled up before Saddam Husain who pulled out his revolver and shot him dead on the spot, in front of an audience of course. Whether true or not, the story is doubly suggestive: first, of a society's need to bedeck its officers with noble motives (it would not have done to say that the unit and its officer were simply defeated); and second, the officer, assuming he existed, was shot for a new reason that had nothing to do with earlier generations of purgeshis failure on the battlefield. Even the manner of his death is suggestive of the new reality: an army metamorphosed into a creature of the Ba'th.
Many Iraqi exiles have spent the last decade waiting for news of a military coup that would rid them of the Ba'th. Illusions in the army are deeply rooted and fostered by all varieties of pan-Arabisms and the Left who have always celebrated the armed forces as the spearhead of national rejuvenation. Historically, civil society in Iraq has relied on the armed forces to bring a sense of its own identity into political focus (1936-41 and 1958-68). Now, however, the structure of power has changed in Iraq with the Ba'thicization of the army. An unprecedented event like the Iraq-Iran war shows that Iraqi politics has been thrust into both turbulent and completely uncharted waters.
The Party Militia"Armed struggle" has always been an idea subordinated to building the Ba'th party and extending its mass influence. In 1931, George Habash approached Michel 'Aflaq with a proposal to "give the Ba'th teeth." The suggestion was to attach his secret paramilitary organization to the Ba'th party. 'Aflaq did not turn the proposal down, but when he insisted as a precondition that the new cadre individually become party members, negotiations broke down. Not only was this the first practical step taken by the party to organize an armed capability, but the story is suggestive of how political the orientation of the Ba'th was in relation to a paramilitary organization, an orientation far removed from considerations of revenge or the venting of frustrations. In Iraq, ABSP paramilitary organization dates back to the founding of the Haras al-Qawmi, the National Guard, organized in the late 1950s under 'Abd al-Karim Nasrat (murdered in 1971). The units were first used to overthrow the Qassem regime in 1963. When the first attacks on the Ministry of Defence began "the signal to go ahead was given to the Ba'thi militia, who for the first time donned their green . . . armlets, kept in readiness; at least two thousand men, many armed with submachine guns, poured out of A'zamiyya [a nationalist quarter of Baghdad]." Other squads were dispatched to assassinate key figures in the regime.
Between 1,500 and 5,000 people died in three days of street fighting. The Haras al-Qawmi fought civilian supporters of Qassem and the ICP (only 100 soldiers were killed defending Qassem in the Ministry of Defence). A house-to-house search for communists followed based on elaborate lists prepared beforehand. In the aftermath, sports clubs, movie theatres, an entire section of Kifah Street, and private houses were requisitioned by the Haras as temporary prisons and local headquarters. During the nine-month Ba'thi regime of 1963, 149 communists were officially executed. But this is a gross underestimate. Hundreds of people died "unofficially," and ever so horribly, in Haras headquarters. In such centers, men like Nadhim Kzar learnt the less subtle mechanics of interrogation. Basing his account on official government sources, Batatu writes:
The Nationalist Guard's Bureau of Special Investigation had alone killed 104 persons, the bodies of 43 of whom were found in 1963-64 buried in aj-Jazirah and al-Haswah districts. . . . In the cellars of al-Nihayyah Palace, which the Bureau used as its headquarters, were found all sorts of loathsome instruments of torture, including electric wires with pincers, pointed iron stakes on which prisoners were made to sit, and a machine which still bore traces of chopped-off fingers. Small heaps of blooded clothing were scattered about, and there were pools on the floor and stains over the walls.The army, supported by its Ba'thist officers, turned against the civilian Ba'thi leadership and their Haras in November 1963. They were disbanded but not before yet another round of fierce citywide clashes. The declaration issued by the president, 'Abd al-Salam 'Aref, gave this justification:
The attacks on the people's freedoms carried out by the . . . bloodthirsty members of the National Guard, their violation of things sacred, their disregard of the law, the injuries they have done to the State and the people, and finally their armed rebellion on November 13, 1963, has led to an intolerable situation which is fraught with grave dangers to the future of this people which is an integral part of the Arab nation. We have endured all we could. . . . But as our patience increased the non-National Guard's acts of terrorism also increased. The Army has answered the call of the people to rid them of this terror.The next time an organized Ba'thi militia made an appearance was in the wake of the July 1968 coup that ushered in the second Ba'thi regime. It emerged from clandestinity as a subsection of the party, grouped in tightly organized cells that were isolated from one another. Saddam Husain had organized Jihaz Haneen from this same membership, and his carefully selected cadres played a role in the coup to become eventually the nucleus of the Mukhabarat, the chief executive organ of Ba'thist policies. However, unlike 1963, the militia as a paramilitary organization did not play an important role in the coup or in the new regime in its first years. Many of its duties were handled by the secret police. Harsh memories of 1963 still lingered among the officers.
Nonetheless, the existence of a party militia always remained an extremely important component of Ba'thist ideology because of their pedagogical value as a counterbalance to the army. The party never lost its own suspicions of the army, which also dated to November 1963, and were reinforced by the struggles inside the Syrian Ba'th in 1966 that led to the expulsion of 'Aflaq and the capture of that party by professional officers. In making a balance sheet of the 1963 overthrow of Qassem, the ABSP Political Report noted that "what was planned was a people's revolution, in which military units and armed civilians fought side by side under the Party's leadership to bring about revolutionary change." However, "the hazards besetting the Revolution unfortunately prevented it from carrying out this plan thoroughly and consistently." The "Revolution" was hijacked nine months later by a "rightist military aristocracy." After 1968, the Political Report says the party considered "disbanding the old army and replacing it with a new revolutionary one." But this course was rejected as impractical in favour of the policy of purges and appointments already discussed.
The militia system never evolved into the army. But it was overhauled in 1974 following the Kzar affair (when some units showed confused loyalties) along with the whole policing system. The reorganized "popular militia" or "people's army" fell under the authority of the Mukhabarat. By the late 1970s, with the army no longer a political force, the militia began to take on a new character. The units became viewed as auxiliary to the army, and as vehicles for party recruitment and the promotion of Ba'thi values among youth. Membership, once confined to men of the party over eighteen years of age, was expanded to non-Ba'thists in 1975 and to women in 1976. Militia members undergo a two-month annual training period and come from all walks of life (factory workers, civil servants, students). Employers are reimbursed by the government for the absences of employees, and students are excused from their studies. Many members have been involved in the Lebanese civil war. Training takes place in the militia's own schools by graduates of those schools. It includes lectures on political vigilance and Ba'thist ideology as well as weapon and tactical training. From a few thousand in the early 1970s, the popular militia mushroomed with the war to 450,000 people (in 1982). Today the militia system is an experience that millions of people have passed through. Current thinking regarding the militia was first set out in the 1974 Political Report:
Revolutionary transformation in the next phase demands our utmost effort in propagating national and Pan-Arab values and those of courage, self-sacrifice, responsibility, and respect for communal work. . . .
. . . The military training of the masses has a special place in this domain. It must be extended to embrace the largest number of citizens, particularly the organized groups and the young. The use of weapons should be an essential component of the new man and the new society. Morever, the military training of a large number of citizens ensures that the country has a reserve army, in addition to its national army, which can contribute actively in protecting the Revolution and the country and in undertaking Pan-Arab tasks.
Numbers of Armed MenThe size of the Iraqi armed forces in 1984 was 607,000 men and is probably larger today. Additionally, the popular militia was 450,000 strong, a figure that has also grown since. But these are numbers that exhibit the distorting effects of the Iraq-Iran war. A good benchmark year for assessing the evolution of the second Ba'thi regime is 1980. The decision to go to war was probably made in the spring of that year, and no reserves were called up until after the war had started. Iraqi Ba'thism was at the peak of its powers. From one point of view, the country's future never looked brighter; economically, financial reserves were at an all-time high and oil revenues seemed everlasting; politically, the opposition was decimated and Iraq was poised to host the nonaligned nations summit, with Husain taking over leadership from Fidel Castro. Nineteen eighty is, therefore, the conclusion of the "normal" course of development of Iraqi Ba'thism before the onset of war.
By armed men, I mean those people (overwhelmingly men) institutionally charged with the infliction of violence. Clearly they don't have to be carrying guns all the time. The criterion is satisfied by the fact that they draw a wage from the state for the purpose of "defending" the homeland, policing citizens, controlling movement, surveillance, catching offenders, and anything else the Ba'th might fit into the label of "national security." How many people can be included in 1980?
The Party MilitiaIn the mid-1970s the popular militia numbered some 50,000 men. The American Foreign Area Studies book on Iraq says that by 1978 "its strength was estimated at 100,000 or above; Iraqi leaders had expressed a goal of its reaching 200,000 by 1980. It was hoped to have these numbers formed into armed militia units in every town and village, and some outside observers believed that this latter goal may already have been achieved in 1978." As soon as the war started there was a massive and largely voluntary rush to the recruiting offices. In 198081 the force was put at 250,000 strong. In 1980, before the wartime recruits entered, the militia was probably around 175,000 people.
The ArmyMany sources concur on 242,000 as the number of active military personnel on the eve of war. The lowest estimate given is 222,000. Conscription provides the bulk of the soldiery; every year about 120,000 men reach the age of conscription and the number formally fit for service in 1978 was 1.5 million. After serving either as a conscript or as a short-term volunteer, the men are obliged to serve eighteen years in a reserve unit with periodic training. Reserves are frequently called up on short notice to return to temporary active duty. In 1978 the reserve force was estimated at 250,000 men. Although conscription is supposed to last for two years, release is entirely discretionary, and certain categories of people have been kept for up to five years.
Table 1 suggests a change after 1968 [not shown]. Whereas manpower grew significantly under army rule (1936-41 and 1958-68), it tripled in absolute terms in the twelve years of Ba'thist rule. There is nothing unusual about military expansion in regimes run by the army (before 1968), and for those years Iraq fits a typical Third World pattern. However, by 1977 Iraq's army was two and a hall times the size of Algeria's, a comparable country in many ways. By 1980, among the Arab countries, the number of Iraqi military personnel was second only to that of Egypt. But the more important comparison is given by the figure of eighteen able-bodied fighting men for an average one thousand unarmed citizens. This index is about twice its equivalent for Iran under the Shah at the peak of his manic military buildup, twice that of Egypt throughout the 1970s, and about twelve times that of Brazil with the largest army in Latin America. This index establishes that an unprecedented proportion of the male population was experiencing the army by 1980, and if one factors in the tightening up of the previously liberal policies of exemption from service promulgated by the Ba'th and the growth in the size and significance of the reserve units in general, the extension of the social impact of the military is even more pronounced.
Table 1 [not shown] shows three periods of expansion. The first follows independence in 1932 right up to the denouement of pan-Arabism in 1941 and the short war with Britain. The second, more moderate period of growth, spans the interval between the short-lived Ba'thi regime of 1963 and 1968, a period marked by a succession of pan-Arabist military governments. Qassem's reign (1958-63) was associated with greater expenditure on equipment and salaries, but there is no evidence that manpower grew significantly. The third expansion began with the second Ba'thi regime. An important observation, therefore, is that there is a historical correlation between the ascendancy of pan-Arabism in politics and the growth of the army.
However, the big surge in numbers of the third period did not begin in 1968; it began after the high command had been purged and the structure of authority Ba'thicized (Table 1, 1972, 1977, 1980). This growth clearly posed no new threat to Ba'thist hegemony; it presupposed it. All other considerations aside, coup-making ability diminishes above a certain size threshold; power within the officer corps becomes too dispersed. But this is not an explanation of the extraordinary surge in numbers. In the past, the army had ruled directly or functioned as a force for internal suppression. Both conditions explain military growth taken separately or together. But now, the military was growing most rapidly while it was becoming apolitical and its historically central function of internal suppression was being taken over by other institutions. This tendency shifts the emphasis onto Ba'thist intentions, or internal party dynamics, and greatly magnifies the contrast in overall repressive capability between Ba'thism and all previous regimes.
The PoliceUnder the monarchy, the police force grew from 2,500 men in 1920, to 12,300 in 1941, to 23,400 in 1958. This last figure includes 8,368 officers and soldiers of the Mobile Force, which served as the chief repressive instrument of the monarchy. Between 1958 and 1968, policing resources were largely an appendage to army rule. Comparable figures for the second Ba'thi regime cannot be constructed because of the complete transformation in the category itself. Under "police," one must today include a number of separate agencies; relations between them are not always clear, and all are independent of the army and the party militia. They include the Mukhabarat; the Amn; the Estikhbarat; the Border Guards; the Mobile Police Strike Force; the General Department of Nationality; the General Department of Police, which contains the more or less normal array of specialized departments for traffic, narcotics, technical investigations, customs, local governate police, political direction, railroad security, building installation security, the police training college, shurtat al-najdah (emergency), and so on. All these agencies, apart from the Estikhbarat, are subsumed under the Ministry of Interior. The Mukhabarat, while not subject to this ministry's jurisdiction, probably has most of its personnel counted within (its agents are also dispersed throughout the state and in the mass organizations). The Ministry of Interior is entirely devoted to matters of policing, national security, national identity, and social control; at any rate no other labour-intensive activity is performed under its auspices (separate ministries deal with public works, housing, communications, information, culture and arts, labor and social affairs, and the usual subdivisions on the economy and foreign affairs).
An eighth intelligence-gathering agency is in the Presidential Affairs Department. People in this agency could be Mukhabarat, Amn, a mixture of both, or, as seems most likely, a special autonomous security organization directly attached to the presidency. The department mushroomed in the late 1970s when Saddam Husain became president.
Only one source has ventured to estimate the size of two of these agencies. In the second half of the 1970s,
the Border Guards and the Mobile Force, accounted for an estimated 50,000 additional men within the security apparatus. . . . the Border Guards were stationed principally in northern Iraq along the borders of Iran, Turkey, and Syria to guard against smuggling and infiltration. . . . The Mobile Force was a militarized police strike force used to support the regular police in the event of major internal disorders. It was armed with infantry weapons, artillery, and armored vehicles, and it contained commando units that were believed to have been used against Kurdish guerrillas.Both agencies are highly specialized, and not nearly as ubiquitous as the Mukhabarat or the Amn.
Because all numbers are highly speculative, I shall proceed on the assumption that the size and growth of the Ministry of Interior and the Presidential Affairs Department provide an approximate estimate of Iraq's whole policing capability. The Estikhbarat (military intelligence) would be excluded from this count on the assumption that this agency has already been counted as part of the army.
The Ministry of Interior is by far the largest branch of government. Between 1976 and 1978 the number of its employees grew from 102,422 to 151,301; the Presidential Affairs Department grew from 24,073 to 57,768. These were among the highest rates of growth for all twenty-three government ministries. Furthermore, in 1979 the interior minister announced the need to continue with an unspecified expansion of the internal security forces "in order to carry out transactions with citizens with the greatest possible speed." Assuming, therefore, the same rate of growth of these two bodies between 1978 and 1980 as took place between 1976 and 1978 (the figures for which are available), one can estimate a total of 346,000 people for 1980. For the sake of argument, let's say one-fourth of these people have nothing to do with national security, or policing people. That leaves 260,000 various types of police and security personnel along with the bureaucrats, technicians, and civil servants required to administer and service their activities. Even if I am wrong by a factor of fifty percent (most unlikely), then the combined numbers of police and militia will still greatly exceed the size of the standing army, and be in absolute terms twice as large as anything experienced in Iran under the Shah.
SummaryThe overall picture in 1980, a peak year in the fortunes of Ba'thism, is shown in Table 2 [not shown]. One-fifth of the economically active Iraqi labour force (about 3.4 million people) were institutionally charged during peacetime (1980) with one form or another of violence. This is an extraordinary relationship, completely out of proportion with any other country that I can think of. Beyond a certain point, such numbers begin to account for every important specificity of the polity. Opposition can no longer arise except in people's minds, and then it is not really an opposition at all. In addition, the criteria used to justify this "security" are themselves continuously redefined (and have to be for the system to be self-perpetuating). A political opposition that does not exist in reality has to be invented because of the way in which the polity is constructed. Once such numbers come into play, very few things about society matter any longer (such as its class structure, confessional allegiances, the preoccupations of its intelligentsia, income disparities, and other social or political injustices). The fact that oil revenues have made this bizarre state of affairs possible in Iraq is beside the point. These revenues were also used for development and conspicuous consumption in the oil-producing countries. Windfall income levels do not explain the political choices Ba'thism made in Iraq; they merely serve to highlight those choices from the circumscribing exigencies of development in a backward setting. Insofar as these numbers of armed men are open to a fully "rational" chain of causation, then only something intrinsic to Ba'thism can serve to explain them.
Party and StateRepressive institutions grew in tandem with party membership and employment by the state. The party organization, with all its many forms of membership, could hardly have exceeded a few thousand people in 1968. By 1976 the ABSP and its "organized supporters" were estimated at half a million. Of these, a mere ten thousand at most were full members; the rest were supporters with all of the obligations and none of the rights of full members. To enter the highest grade of party membership, "inferior Ba'thists have to go through a course of training at Madrasat-ul-I'dad-il-Hizbi—the School for Party Preparation." Moreover, "within this class the old Ba'thists and the direct participants in the 1959 attempt on Qassem's life and in the coups of 1963 and 1968 have higher standing and greater opportunities than others." These figures were updated by Saddam Husain in 1980, who said: "more than one million organized persons practice democracy inside the party on a wide and deep scale, discussing the affairs of the people and what is decided [by others] about their affairs." Finally, a 1984 book sympathetic to the regime made the claim that an "estimated 1.5 million Iraqis, or 10.7 percent of the total population of 14 million, are supporters or sympathizers of the Ba'th; full party members number 25,000, or less than 0.2 percent." These figures are internally consistent concerning their growth over time, and are probably reliable. Not many parties undergo such accelerated expansion. The Bolsheviks grew from 23,600 members on the eve of the February 1917 revolution to 115,000 members a year later. During the civil war the party membership reached 650,000 but, on Lenin's instigation, was reduced to 472,00 by 1924. On the whole this growth was voluntary, "from below." Through Stalin's famous "Lenin enrollment," the party grew to 1,078,182 members in the two years following Lenin's death, a growth achieved "from above" by drafting unpoliticized workers and peasants en-masse. This latter kind of growth resembles what happened to the Ba'th party in the 1970s.
Unlike the expansion of the party and the repressive institutions, "statification" has been going on since the 1950s, boosted by the overthrow of the monarchy and growing dependency on oil revenues, as shown in Table 3 [not shown]. For reasons of history and geography, the Middle East has a tradition of large state apparatuses and high levels of urbanization. However, by the late 1970s, Iraq had become an aberration even against this norm. The Shah's government, for instance, employed 800,000 people in 1977. If one includes all employees of state-run economic enterprises and financial institutions, then "10 per-cent of all those in employment could be said to be government employees." The Iraqi equivalent was at least 30 percent. By combining civilian state personnel in 1980 with the army and, for sake of argument, half of the militia forces (assuming the other half are already employed by the state in some other capacity), the total is just under 1.2 million people, about half the economically active urban labour force—this in a society that is 65 percent urbanized by the official count.
Closely related but different factors were at work in the growth of the repressive institutions, the party organization, and the state apparatus. The numbers are not commensurable. Not all members of the party are employees of the state; and, although at first all militia members were in the party, by the second half of the 1970s this was no longer the case. The men of the secret police are today government employees. Hence what used to be a party intelligence system, the Mukhabarat, is today a state organization. Nonetheless, whereas personnel of the party and of the state were two completely different sets of people in 1968, by 1980 the picture had reversed. One million party members were inside a state that had itself become so bloated that it was virtually a stand-in for society as a whole. Party, state, and even civil society were merging into a single, great, formless mass.
The view of the ABSP is outlined in its 1974 Political Report:
The Party . . . faced a vast and delicate task [in 1968]. Before taking power, it did not have machinery to replace the state system, as did for example the Chinese Revolution. . . . Suddenly in charge of the state, the Revolution could not simply dismantle the existing system and build a new one, as, for instance, the Russian revolution had done. . . . To abolish the whole system or to introduce radical change at a stroke would have brought total chaos.Consequently, the party adopted a programme of rapid expansion, training new members in party methods and gradually inserting this new cadre into the army, secret police, and the civil bureaucracy. "It was by a long, complex and gradual process that the necessary changes were introduced throughout the state apparatus, as well as in legislation, the information media, culture and education." Looking back from the finished result, it is astonishing how determined and level-headed the party leadership was about the undertaking, despite its wrenching administrative implications. Although obstacles such as bureaucratism concerned them (as it had done Lenin in his last years, albeit for different reasons), the party saw no alternative:
It was not only objective circumstances which obliged the Party to adopt a gradual programme of appointing Party members to important governmental posts; there was also the difficult problem of cadres to whom different responsibilities had been assigned before the Revolution. . . . At the same time there was a need for extra cadres for Party work, which . . . was expanding continuously and entering new fields of activity. . . . The February 1963 experiment could hardly be relied on for guidance. The struggle before the Revolution, bringing imprisonment, exile and starvation to many Party members, had not allowed more than a small number of them to acquire the modern administrative and technological skills required. . . .The Ba'th have saddled Iraq with two kinds of tyranny: the despot and his means of violence on the one hand, and his bureaucracy on the other. Salim's experience showed that these two kinds of violence merge. But the scope of the latter is obviously far wider than the former and at least equally implicated in the character of the new regime.
For a time there was some confusion between governmental and Party responsibility. . . . As a result, many comrades considered themselves responsible for everything, large or small, in the work of the government. . . . Such mistaken notions caused many difficulties and strained relations between Ba'thist and non-Ba'thist officials. Many Party members supposed that the Party's authority depended on the number of Ba'thists employed by the state, and on this mistaken assumption they demanded the wholesale appointment of Ba'thists at every level from minister to messenger. . . .
The speed with which the Party had to place its members in key positions . . . led to some unfortunate results. On being promoted, some members lost their sense of proportion, committed serious mistakes and became arrogant. The Party was often forced to reconsider its decisions and reshuffle its appointments. Promotion also produced a sort of impermissible competition among some Party members.
In a recent book Mustafa Hijazi drew attention to the psychology of the relationships governing bureaucracies and citizens in the Third World and coined the phrase "identification in the violence of the oppressor." He argues that political administration hangs together on the basis of each level in the hierarchy of authority demeaning the one directly below with the object of keeping it "in place." The whole apparatus of state is united in regarding the citizen as an outsider placed at the very bottom of the heap. All personnel, from the lowliest clerk to the most exalted minister, treat every transaction performed as gratuitous generosity on their part. The notion of a public service, a merit system of promotions, or a citizen's inviolable right to something has always been absent. Instead, relations of conflict, diminution, and overlordship permeate all levels of the bureaucracy in its dealings with the public. Hence arises the tendency to grovel before authority, or to seek a personal solution to problems—wasta as it is called in Iraq. Appearances become everything in such a world. Who one is, how one dresses, and, most important, how one handles oneself is more important than rights or entitlements in the abstract.
In a more political vein, Sadiq al-'Azm and Fouad 'Ajami have in different ways stressed the remoteness, hostility, and disconnectedness of the Arab state from its citizenry. "The latter wish only to be left alone, and they shelter themselves from the capricious will of the state. The stateas is the case in oriental despotismsreigns, but does not rule." Both men were thinking of the failures of the state after independence, so dramatically underlined by the debacle of the 1967 war. The state reigns insofar as it maintains a monopoly over the means of violence; it does not rule because the violence that Hijazi was thinking about undercuts any form of consent. In short, such a state has in principle no authority outside of itself, or no authority in the eyes of its subjects: "It is not to the state that Arabs owe loyalty, but to their families and clans." The writ of a state modelled in this way would in principle extend only as far and as firmly as the reach of its repressive capability. The Lebanese civil war provides a tragic new confirmation of these insights into the politics of legitimacy and authority in the Arab world.
There are in fact two problems here: first, the problem of the state versus civil society conceived as society less all those citizens who are inside the state; and second, the problem of authority in a state system riddled with the presumption of violence. In very small states (Lebanon) or very large societies (Egypt, Iran), the first problem outweighs the second as the formative influence on the polity. But in the case of a middle-sized country like Iraq, ruled by a party seeking "statification," the priorities can get reversed to the extent that civil society is swallowed up by the state.
Having inherited a system not unlike that described by 'Ajami and al-'Azm, the Ba'th devised a novel approach to the problem of hostility and alienation from the state: they turned the people into its employees. In its old form, authority was a problem because the social base of power was limited, facilitating cyclical political change through wars and coups d'etat. In its Ba'thist form this problem withered away to be replaced by one of managing and administering conflicts within the bloated state. The system is more stable because, despite the higher levels of violence in society generally, the party on behalf of the new polity has actually manufactured its own social base, quite irrespective of whether it had one to start with. From this viewpoint, the bedrock on which the regime in Iraq rested in 1980 was its full-blown apparatus of violence comprising some 677,000 people. But as other numbers show (835,000 state employees and 1 million party members in 1980), there were still other layers between this bedrock and thin air on which the regime placed a good deal of its weight.
Not only have the Ba'th changed the terms of the problem because of these macrosocial changes, but they have injected an immeasurably larger dose of violence into the details that make up all state-mediated relationships in Iraq. Hijazi was writing about this kind of violence in Iraq not because rights that once existed were taken away, but because many of the old countervailing forces were ruthlessly uprooted (there was something to be said for wasta as a way of getting out of military service, for example). Authority used to be the butt of popular jokes, anecdotes, and satirical poems, cultural safety valves that provided relief from the traditional oppressiveness of the state. But all that is gone now. No one dares ridicule authority any longer in Iraq because everyone is afraid. The tone of political culture has become Kafkaesque: saturated with a sense of the impersonality of sinister and impenetrable forces, operating on helpless individuals, who nonetheless intuit that they are being buffeted about by a bizarre, almost transcendental kind of rationality.