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Coercion, murder and prosperity

State of Repression
Forfatter: Lisa Blaydes
Forlag: Princeton University Press (USA)
Documents from Saddam Hussein's archives show a completely different Iraq than the usual story tells.


We know that Iraq is a terrible mess. Shi'ites fight Sunnis. Chaldean Christians, Turkmen and ethnic Persians are being persecuted, and the Kurds in the north are trying to break free. In this jumble, the area becomes fertile ground for IS and similar groups. 

The situation is often viewed as the result of Iraq being a so-called artificial state, with borders drawn on the map by rulers of the British in 1932, irrespective of ethnic groups and natural land divides. In other words, the usual post-colonial history of the Middle East. 

On top of this, Iraq experienced the oppressive Sunni dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, who took the internal divisions in the country to new heights and is still considered the main culprit behind the current troubled situation.

Iraqi identity building

But this whole story is not necessarily true. Lisa Blaydes, associate professor of political science at Stanford University, has access to thousands of documents from Saddam Hussein's archive as well as loads of other written material that the Americans seized during the 2003 invasion. Only recently has this been made available to researchers, which has among other things enabled Blaydes to give a slightly different presentation of the case.

Saddam's regime did a tremendous job of integrating minority groups.

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a country where extremely brutal repression took place. But the country was not ethnically divided, as it is usually claimed. In fact, the regime did a tremendous job of integrating minority groups. Of course, the goal was to strengthen the leaders of Baghdad by all means, but among other things this was done through attempts to cultivate a common Iraqi identity. It was primarily the international sanctions of 1991 that triggered the internal strife.

Baathism and Arabism

The Baath Party, which took power in 1968, ten years after Iraq became independent, can best be described as a nationalist movement for Arab reconstruction, with a socialist element. Saddam Hussein became vice president in 1973, when oil prices began to rise sharply, and was the brain behind what Blaydes calls the "nation-building period." The distribution of wealth benefited all ethnic groups, and the authorities agreed to create a kind of welfare state.

On the other hand, it was expected that the citizens accepted Baha'ism as a unanimous video
lodging, and Arabic as a common identity. Early on, the regime introduced Kurdish teaching for Arabic-speaking students and vice versa to reduce language barriers in the country. In 1976 came a law prohibiting the use of tribal or family names; After the introduction, Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti became Saddam Hussein himself. 

The stores were well-stocked, and the number of schools doubled in a few years. The oil money enabled Saddam to give people different types of rewards and rewards. Faithful officials, for example, received a TV from the party. On the other hand, those who watched more than they should have been punished with torture and imprisonment.

War non stop

In 1979, at the same time as the Islamic revolution was taking place in Iran, Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq – and everything changed. Saddam started by declaring war on his neighbor, for fear that the revolution would spread. 

Blaydes' findings show that Shi'ites were among the most eager to enlist in the war service. This cost, among other things, the great human loss of the southern city of Basra. As state funds to compensate injured families began to end, the situation changed. 

The idea of ​​a national duty among Kurds has been virtually non-existent.

The period from 1991 until Saddam Hussein's death in 2003 can be characterized as an uninterrupted war and disaster. The economic shock that followed the international sanctions destroyed the regime's opportunities for aid that could secure the support of the people. At the same time, the authorities' smart rationing system for basic commodities increased the population's dependence on the state in step with the food shortage.

The regime became increasingly paranoid. Thousands were jailed for the smallest offenses, countless tortured and executed. As it became more difficult to reach the outskirts of the country, power was given to "loyal" tribal leaders. It was at this stage sectarianism and local self-interest spread.


Lisa Blaydes finds a good case in northern Iraq's Kurdish population. This does not constitute one unified and unified people, but is divided into different tribes that do not necessarily stand well with each other. Historically, loyalty has primarily been directed at the tribe and tribal leader, and the idea of ​​a national duty towards other Kurds has been virtually nonexistent, Blaydes points out.

Iraqi Kurds were reluctant to go to war against Iran, but more dissatisfied with the lack of revenues after oil discoveries in "their" territory than for Iranian-Kurdish "brothers" on the other side of the front line. This unwillingness led to extra severe repression by the Kurds as the situation became tougher for the Baghdad regime.

Western spectators call this "sectarianism", while Lisa Blaydes gives a more nuanced explanation. With the Kurds as a crown example, she reveals the real flaw of this failed nation, which causes the Iraqi people to suffer. 

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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