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27 August 2006

IRAQ I, Saddam Era

Al Anfal Mass Graves

This is the first post of the IRAQ (Iraq, Reasonable Answers for our Questions) series of blog posts. It's about Iraq during Saddam Hussein's regime. I think this may help as an intruduction in order to understand the background of what is going on in Iraq now.

In 1958, a year after Saddam Hussein had joined the Ba'ath party, which was founded by Michel Aflaq in 1947, army officers led by General Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew Faisal II of Iraq. The Ba'athists opposed the new government, and in 1959, Saddam was involved in the attempted United States-backed plot to assassinate Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qassim. He was sentenced to death in absentia. Saddam studied law at the Cairo University during his exile.

Later on in 1976, Saddam rose to the position of general in the Iraqi armed forces. He rapidly became the strongman of the government. At the time Saddam was considered an enemy of communism and radical Islamism. Saddam was integral to U.S. policy in the region, a policy which sought to weaken the influence of Iran and the Soviet Union. As Iraq's weak and elderly President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr became increasingly unable to execute his duties, Saddam took on an increasingly prominent role as the face of the government both internally and externally. He soon became the architect of Iraq's foreign policy and represented the nation in all diplomatic situations. He was the de facto ruler of Iraq some years before he formally came to power in 1979.

Shortly afterwards, he convened an assembly of Ba'ath party leaders on July 22, 1979. During the assembly, which he ordered videotaped, Saddam claimed to have found spies and conspirators within the Ba'ath Party and read out the names of 68 members who he thought could oppose him. These members were labeled "disloyal" and were removed from the room one by one and taken into custody. After the list was read, Saddam congratulated those still seated in the room for their past and future loyalty. The 68 people arrested at the meeting were subsequently put on trial, and 22 were sentenced to execution for treason.

In 1979 Iran's Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution, thus giving way to an Islamic republic led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The influence of revolutionary Shi'ite Islam grew apace in the region, particularly in countries with large Shi'ite populations, especially Iraq. Saddam feared that radical Islamic ideas — hostile to his secular rule — were rapidly spreading inside his country among the majority Shi'ite population. USA was also alerted and pushed Saddam towards declaring war against Iran in order to stop its rising influence. And similar to what is going on now a days, USA started to scare the Arab countries - especially the GULF ones - of the Shiit influence in the area, and as a result of this, many Gulf countries - including Kuwait - pumped money into Saddam's pockets helping him building an aresenal to fight Iran. It's really funny to know that this arsenal was used later on against those specific Arab countries. During this long conventional war, Iraq attacked Iran with chemical weapons and killed many Iranian military personnel and civilians with such weapons.

The Shi'a majority were long a source of opposition to the government due to its secular policies, and the Ba'ath Party was increasingly concerned about potential Sh'ia Islamist influence following the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The Kurds of northern Iraq (who are Sunni Muslims but not Arabs) were also permanently hostile to the Ba'athist party's Arabizing tendencies. The major instruments for accomplishing this control were the paramilitary and police organizations. Beginning in 1974, Taha Yassin Ramadan, a close associate of Saddam, commanded the People's Army, which was responsible for internal security. As the Ba'ath Party's paramilitary, the People's Army acted as a counterweight against any coup attempts by the regular armed forces. In addition to the People's Army, the Department of General Intelligence (Mukhabarat) was the most notorious arm of the state security system, feared for its use of torture and assassination. It was commanded by Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's younger half-brother. Since 1982, foreign observers believed that this department operated both at home and abroad in their mission to seek out and eliminate perceived opponents of Saddam Hussein.

There are many examples of the paramilitary and police policy of Saddam's regime. In 1977 Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who is the cousin of both Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr (Muqtada al-Sadr's grandfather) and imam Musa as-Sadr (the founder of Amal movement in Lebanon), was a close ally and supporter of Ayatollah Khomeni, was sentenced to life in prison following uprisings in Najaf, but was released two years later due to his immense popularity. In 1980, after writing in the defense of Khomeni and the Islamic Revolution, Sadr was once again imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. His sister, Amina Sadr bint al-Huda, was also imprisoned, tortured, and executed. It has been alledged that Sadr was killed by having iron nail hammered into his head and then being set on fire. Al Sadr was excuted in April 9 1980, and Saddam's regime fell to American forces on the same date in 2003.
Al-Anfal Campaign was an anti-Kurdish campaign led by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein between 1986 and 1989 (during and just after the Iran-Iraq war). The campaign is said to have cost the lives of 182,000 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The campaign was headed by Ali Hasan al-Majid, a cousin of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The Anfal campaign included the use of ground offensives, aerial bombing, systematic destruction of settlements, mass deportation, concentration camps, firing squads, and chemical warfare, which earned al-Majid the nickname of "Chemical Ali". The Halabja poison gas attack was an incident on 15 March-19 March 1988 during a major battle in the Iran-Iraq War when chemical weapons were used by the Iraqi government forces to kill a number of people in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja (population 80,000). Estimates of casualties range from several hundred to 7,000 people. The poison gas attack on the Iraqi town of Halabja was the largest-scale chemical weapons (CW) attack against a civilian population in modern times.

Many other examples of the paramilitary and police policy, including the mass graves, and assasinations.
On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait resulting in the Gulf War and United Nations economic sanctions imposed at the urging of the U.S. The economic sanctions were designed to compel Saddam to dispose of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). After the Gulf War Iraq's ethnic and religious divisions, together with the resulting postwar devastation, laid the groundwork for new rebellions within the country. In the aftermath of the fighting, social and ethnic unrest among Shi'a Muslims, Kurds, and dissident military units threatened the stability of Saddam's government. Uprisings erupted in the Kurdish north and Shi'a southern and central parts of Iraq, but were ruthlessly repressed. In 2005 the BBC reported that as many as 30,000 persons had been killed during the 1991 uprisings, sometimes called Shaaban's Intifada. The United States, which had urged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, did nothing to assist the rebellions beyond enforcing the "no fly zones". U.S. ally Turkey opposed any prospect of Kurdish independence, and the Saudis and other conservative Arab states feared an Iran-style Shi'a revolution. Saddam, having survived the immediate crisis in the wake of defeat, was left firmly in control of Iraq, although the country never recovered either economically or militarily from the Persian Gulf War. Saddam routinely cited his survival as "proof" that Iraq had in fact won the war against America. This message earned Saddam a great deal of popularity in many sectors of the Arab world, Amr El Abyad as an example :)

Relations between the United States and Iraq remained tense following the Gulf War. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, termed "Operation Iraqi Freedom" by the US administration, began on March 20. The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia and Poland supplied the vast majority of the invading forces. They co-operated with Kurdish forces. Three weeks into the invasion, U.S. forces moved into Baghdad. Initial plans were for armoured units to surround the city and gradually move in, forcing Iraqi armor and ground units to cluster into a central pocket in the city, and then attack with air and artillery forces. This plan soon became unnecessary, as an initial engagement of armor units south of the city saw most of the Republican Guard's armor assets destroyed and much of the southern outskirts of the city occupied. It was clear then that the Iraqis were pissed off of Saddam's regime so that they prefered not to fight the occupying forces than defending the dictator in their country.

Note: Many thanks to the Wikipedia project, which helped me in gathering the historical information used in the post.

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