In 1987 the People's Army (Al Jaysh ash Shaabi--also cited as
the Popular Army or People's Militia), standing at an estimated
650,000, approached the regular armed forces' manpower strength.
Officially, it was the Iraqi Baath Party Militia and included
a special youth section. Formed in 1970, the People's Army grew
rapidly, and by 1977 it was estimated to have 50,000 active members.
Subsequently, a phenomenal growth, giving the militia extensive
internal security functions, occurred. Whereas its original purpose
was to give the Baath Party an active role in every town and village,
the People's Army in 1981 began its most ambitious task to date,
the support of the regular armed forces.
The official functions of the People's Army were to act as backup
to the regular armed forces in times of war and to safeguard revolutionary
achievements, to promote mass consciousness, to consolidate national
unity, and to bolster the relationship between the people and
the army in times of peace. The People's Army dispatched units
to Iraqi Kurdistan before 1980 and to Lebanon to fight with Palestinian
guerrillas during the 1975-76 Civil War. Foreign observers concluded,
however, that the primary function of the People's Army was political
in nature; first, to enlist popular support for the Baath Party,
and second, to act as a counterweight against any coup attempts
by the regular armed forces.
Beginning in 1974, Taha Yasin Ramadan, a close associate of President
Saddam Husayn, commanded the People's Army, which was responsible
for internal security. The command of such a large military establishment
gave Ramadan so much power, however, that some foreign observers
speculated that the primary function of his second in command
was to keep him from using the People's Army as a personal power
People's Army members were recruited from among both women and
men (who had completed their regular army service) eighteen years
of age and older. It was unclear whether or not Baath Party membership
was a prerequisite--especially after 1981, when the numerical
strength of the People's Army ballooned--but, clearly, party indoctrination
was at least as important as military training. Members usually
underwent a two-month annual training period, and they were paid
from party funds. Although the extent of their training was unknown
in early 1988, all recruits were instructed in the use of a rifle.
Graduates were responsible for guarding government buildings and
installations, and they were concentrated around sensitive centers
in major towns. Militia members possessed some sophisticated arms,
and it was possible that disgruntled officers contemplating a
challenge to Saddam Husayn could rally the support of a force
of such militiamen.
Futuwah (Youth Vanguard) was a paramilitary organization for
secondary-school students founded by the Baath Party in 1975.
Boys and girls between the ages of fourteen and eighteen could
join Futuwah and receive training in light arms, in the use of
grenades, and in civil defense work. By early 1988, several thousand
Iraqi youth had volunteered for Futuwah training, and they had
been organized into youth platoons. Unverified reports claimed
that some People's Army units and Futuwah units were dispatched
to the war front for short periods of time in 1983 and 1985. Visitors
to Baghdad in the 1980s, however, reported that most civil defense
activities in the capital were performed by young People's Army
Data as of May 1988