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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.
The Secret Police
Salim 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.... 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.
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.
Excerpted from Republic of Fear by Kanan Makiya Copyright © 1989 by Regents of the University of California . Excerpted by permission.
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PART ONE: THE BA'THIST POLITY
1. Institutions of Violence
2. A World of Fear
3. Ba'thism and the Masses
PART TWO: THE LEGITIMATION OF BA'THISM
5. Pan-Arabism and Iraq
6. Formation of the Ba'th
7. The Legitimation of Iraqi Ba'thism
Conclusion: The Final Catastrophe
Posted October 29, 2001
The Iraque governement is something to fear. This book goes in depth, into the secret police, to Socialism. It is a very good book, as long as you prepare yourself to read it. It takes a lot of thought, and concentration. I would recomend this to anyone who is interested in Iraq, or even Suddam Hussain.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 29, 2011
No text was provided for this review.