|Iraq Table of Contents
Like most developing states, but perhaps to a greater extent because of internal schisms, Iraq was plagued with insecurity and with political instability after independence in 1932. When Britain and France redrew boundaries throughout the Middle East following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the region that eventually became Iraq (under the Sykes-Picot Agreement) included a wide variety of ethnic and religious groups with little sense of national unity. The absence of nation-building elements encouraged various sectors of Iraqi society to oppose the establishment of central authority, often for personal and ideological reasons. Consequently, clandestine activities against the state's budding political and military institutions threatened Iraq's political leaders. Insecurity arising from domestic opposition to the state was compounded by Iraq's longstanding isolation from neighboring countries because of ideological rivalries, ethnic and religious differences, and competition for influence in the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi political agenda was further burdened in the late 1970s by the newly inherited Arab leadership role that came with Egypt's isolation in the wake of the Camp David Accords and the ensuing separate Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty.
The Baath Party that ruled Iraq in early 1988 came to power in July 1968 determined to restore order to a country where political turmoil was the norm. Despite several coup attempts during the intervening twenty years, notably in 1970 and in 1973, the Baath successfully ended the political turbulence of the 1950s and the 1960s. Yet, this level of stability was achieved only through harsh methods imposed by an increasingly disciplined, if intolerant, party. Antistate conspirators, including fellow Baathists, were rushed into exile, were kept under house arrest, or were executed. Actual or alleged coup attempts were forcefully put down and were followed by systematic purges of the bureaucracy and the armed forces; moreover, the party's vigilance on internal security was supported by a thorough indoctrination program to gain and to maintain formerly uncertain loyalties, both within the armed forces and in the civilian population.
Baathist success in maintaining internal security resulted partly from its 1975 limited victory against the Kurds. The Iraqi-Iranian border agreement of March 1975, subsequently formalized in the Baghdad Treaty in June 1975, resolved a number of disputes between the two states. Its provisions ended Iranian support for Iraqi Kurds, whose struggles for autonomy had troubled Iraqi governments since 1932. Bolstered by this limited success, Baghdad adopted a variety of measures in the succeeding decade in order to emerge from its political isolation and assert its strategic value. The 1970s closed under a cloud of insecurity, however, as the Baathists took stock of the revolutionary Islamic regime in Tehran. Threatened by Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini's repeated calls to Iraqi Shias to follow in the Iranian people's footsteps by overthrowing usurpers of power, the Baathist leadership embarked on an adventurous war. Seven years later, Baghdad was nowhere near its objective, and it was struggling to avoid a military defeat. Nevertheless, the Baath Party continued to maintain its influence in Iraq throughout the early and mid-1980s. For the most part, the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and its chairman, President Saddam Husayn (also seen as Hussein), maintained their political positions through repressive means and by what was justified as a defensive Iraqi war against a perceived threat. Foreign observers believed that the government remained vulnerable to challenges to its authority the lack of any legitimate means of political dissent because of and because of the reverberations of a war of attrition with mounting casualties.
Iraq had enjoyed a relatively favorable national security situation in the late 1970s, but practically all its perceived politico-military gains were lost after it attacked Iran in 1980, and in 1988 Iraq faced serious economic and military difficulties.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress