ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY
Status in National Life
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
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