Iraq Table of Contents
Iraqi units at Khorramshahr, Iran, October 1980
In modern Iraq, the armed forces have intervened in the political life of the state. Military interventions were concentrated in two periods, the first from 1936 to 1941, when there were seven coups d'etat, and the second between 1958 and 1968, when there were five military seizures of power. Because Iraq had a highly developed military institution and chronically weak civilian regimes, the armed forces felt that they alone were capable of providing strong and stable governments; however, personal and ideological factionalization within the armed forces fostered heightened instability and a cycle of coups that culminated in the Baathist takeover on July 17, 1968.
As the leadership in the previous military regime became increasingly fragmented and weak, and as resistance movements grew, Baathist officers, intending to end the cycle of military intervention in the government, carried out a coup. Baath Party officials believed the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) and various Kurdish movements were using the military as a vehicle to promote their own interests. Consequently, the Baath decided to weaken the military's political power gradually and to turn the army into a loyal and strong defensive force. Accordingly, they steadily reduced military participation in the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC); whereas the five-member 1968 RCC was composed exclusively of military men, only three of the RCC's twenty-two members in 1978 were active-duty officers.
To transform the military into an ideological army (Al Jaysh al Aqidi), the Baath undertook purges of the armed forces and granted military posts to civilians. They also tried to "purify" the armed forces by providing propaganda pamphlets and indoctrination lectures.
To institutionalize its control of the army, the Baath Party adopted an eclectic strategy. First, it restricted admission to military colleges and institutions to members of the Baath Party. Those accepted could expect generous financial rewards if they remained loyal, but, if they did not, they could expect the death penalty. Second, discrimination, in recruitment and in promotion, on religious and nationality grounds was intensified. At one point in 1979, all senior posts were restricted to officers related to Saddam Husayn or to other individuals from Tikrit.
The Ideological Army advocated national socialism, and the Baath Party used the army to fulfill Baath objectives. By 1980 the Ideological Army was an organized, modern force capable of rapid movement and, strengthened by an overwhelming feeling of historical responsibility. The officers were firmly convinced that theirs was an elite role, that of the leading patriotic force in Iraqi society, and they, too, were inspired to carry out the national "historical mission." In short, the Baathization of the armed forces, based on an indoctrination in national socialism, in reliance on force, and in a vision of this historical mission, completed the emergence of the new army as a national force.
During the 1970s, military officers unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the Baathist regime, however, on at least two occasions. In January 1970, an attempted coup led by two retired officers, Major General Abd al Ghani ar Rawi and Colonel Salih Mahdi as Samarrai, was discovered and thwarted as the conspirators entered the Republican Palace. In June 1973, a plot by Nazim Kazzar, a Shia and the director of internal security, to assassinate President Ahmad Hasan al Bakr and Saddam Husayn was foiled. Kazzar, who resented both Sunni and Tikriti domination of the Baath Party, had taken a prominent part in organizing the massacre of communists in the anarchy that followed the military's seizure of power in February 1963. He had acquired a reputation as a torturer, and the old palace that he had taken over as headquarters was known as "Qasr an Nihayah," the "Palace of the End." Few who entered ever came out, nor did their bodies receive public burial. When his coup plans failed, Kazzar fled toward the Iranian border. Before being apprehended, he killed the minister of defense, Hammad Shihab, who happened to be in the area inspecting border posts. Shortly afterward he was executed. Both coup attempts were followed by summary trials, executions, and purges of the armed forces.
Although rumors about foiled coup attempts have circulated periodically, the most serious attempt to assassinate Saddam Husayn reportedly occurred in 1982, after both a military defeat on the battlefield and an erosion in the economy. On July 11, 1982, the presidential party was traveling through the mixed Shia-Sunni village of Ad Dujayl, about sixty kilometers northeast of Baghdad, when it was surrounded by Shia villagers and held for several hours before it was rescued by the army. Subsequent reports revealed that a number of Saddam's bodyguards and of the villagers were killed. As punishment, the Baath government deported the villagers to Iran and razed their houses.
Data as of May 1988
Iraq Table of Contents