George Kerevan states that the word ‘baath’ in itself refers to renaissance or resurrection, and that this was the principle upon which the Baath Arab Socialist Party was founded during the 1940’s. Intended to fight and overthrow Western rule, the Baath Party was originally formed in Damascus, the largest city in Syria. However, it must be remembered that from the time of its inception, the Baath Party has undergone several twists and turns, and today, the citizens of Iraq proclaim that it is a completely unlawful agency, and that it must be discredited.
They would be surprised to learn the truth that the original founders of the Baath Party were two people educated at the prestigious Sorbonne University, Michael Aflaq and Salah-al Din, keeping in mind the principle that all society must be classless. This was also the time that Hitler was rising, and not unexpectedly, the Arab world saw a lot in common with Hitler’s ideals. (Kerevan, George 2003)
Tareq and Jacqueline Ismael talk about the establishment of the communist movement in Syria and Lebanon, and in their opinion, this interesting history has been much better documented than its counterparts in the Arab countries of the world, probably because of the fact that while the former development took place openly, the latter was forced to take place clandestinely. In fact, the development of communism in Syria can be traced well back, because of accurate documentation and publications that serve as historic reminders of this particular period of time.
It would help to remember that Syria, which encompassed Lebanon and Palestine as well, was a part of the Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1918, and it was after 1918 that Arab forces set up an Arab National government, but this did not last. Several parties came and went, and it was in the year 1925 that the then French Commissioner ordered that a Constitution must be formed for Lebanon. (Ismael Tareq, Ismael Jacqueline 1998) It was in the year 1980 that Iraq invaded Iran, and this began a war that would last through most of the next decades.
Although the Western world pretended to be concerned about the happenings in the Arab part of the world, the United States of America in particular could not hide its definite tilt towards Iraq, and this tilting was to lead to high scale controversy, which the rest of the world condemned. Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, causing not only great damage to life and property, but also causing Iraq to be labeled as a ‘pariah’ nation, hated by all. This was the time of the rise of Saddam Hussein, an extremely cruel and sadistic individual, who is considered to have plotted for the consolidation of his power.
As a matter of fact, it became widely known and acknowledged that Saddam Hussein was using the Baath Party, which he joined in the year 1956 when he was a twenty year old man, to gradually oust the ruling President, and assume power for himself. It is important to remember that although the Baath Party was the formal institution that ruled Iraq, the actual power brought about by belonging to the Party and being a part of its network belonged solely to a narrow elite group, which used family ties and relationships, rather than ideologies, to run the country through the Baath Party. Simons, Jeff 1996)
One must understand what the factors are that separate the ruling Baathists in Syria from the Baathists ruling Iraq. To understand this, one must begin with an in-depth look at Syria, and the Baath Party in relation to this state. Syria is a state that is known worldwide for its regionalism and for its fierce loyalty to the interests of its own region, and also for its strong views and devotion to various ethnic and religious groups within the country.
Almost three quarters of the population of Syria is Sunni Muslim, with others belonging to marginal groups like for example the Yezidis, Shiites, Ismailis, Druses and Alawis. Apart from several groups of Christians, there are also ethnic and non-Arabic minorities like the Kurds, the Armenians and the Turcoman. Bedouins form a part of this group, along with semi-nomadic populations that live in deserts.
Experts believe that it is the mixture of all these diverse groups of people living together that may have led to the country’s political instability. This is explained by the fact that since its independence in the year 1946, Syria has been subjected to more than twelve coups d’etat, and has attempted to follow more than six different constitutions. The society is more fragmented than united, and it is this very fragmentation that makes it extremely difficult for one to arrive at a consensus, on any matter of importance.
This is evident in the fact that although Syria has about 85 percent Muslim population, and the present constitution does recognize the ‘Sharia’, which is the Muslim book or rules as the official legislator, it is difficult to follow the Sharia or even declare the state a Muslim one because of the different factions living in the country. The leaders and rulers of the state exercise inordinate amounts of caution before they evoke or quote Islamic principles on any issue, because of their fear of spreading discontent and angst through the rest of the population.
In this context, one must examine the Baath Party. This party seized power in the year 1963. The Baath party itself was formed by two individuals, one a Muslim, the other a Christian. The party is dominated for the large part by members of the Nusayri and the Druze communities, which are known for their non-Islamic beliefs and traditions. Even the Syrian President Assad, who became the President of Syria in 1970, was known to be a non-Muslim. This great man ruled Syria until 2000, when his son Bashar al-Assad took over.
The Baath Party had been founded in the year 1941 for a real and specific purpose, that of bringing about a revolution of sorts in the Arab world, to welcome unity in the state. Not surprisingly, the Baath Party inculcated quite a few Marxist principles, and in a state where even today there is no real consensus about what true Islamic values are, and how they are to be emulated by the general populations, and also how they are to be used in formulating national policies, this led to the ideal of a socialist economy.
If one were to take Iraq into consideration at this point, in relation to the Baath Party, it would become obvious that Syria and Iraq are quite similar in their structure and composition. Iraq is an Arab country, with a predominantly Muslim population, numbering 95 percent. However, the population is divided into three large groups: Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Sunni Kurds, all of whom are equally fanatical about their respective faiths and their beliefs.
Iraq is a country that is deeply divided by the ethnic loyalties exhibited by its population; the Shiites and the Sunnis have traditionally been great enemies, while the Kurds think of themselves as being separate from the Arabs of Iraq. Almost everyone who lives in the country tends to look outside their country for their self-identity, and for support; wile the Shiite group looks to Iran for support, the Kurds entertain hopes of forming a separate country with only their brethren occupying it, while the Arabs dream of creating a pan-Arab nation in Iraq.
The Baath Party has traditionally found it a difficult task to take over the ruling of the country, because of several reasons. One reason is that it is the Sunni Muslims who dominate the country, despite the fact that it is the Shiite group that makes up more than half of the population of Iraq. It is the Sunnis who are a part of the economic, political and intellectual elite of the country, and this means that Shiites and the Kurds are automatically excluded from power of any kind within the country. In the same way as in Syria, the Baath Party has been in power in Iraq from the year 1968.
In both cases, the party was backed by the military; in fact, the President Bakr staged a military coup with great success to assume power in Iraq. The ruling Sunnis in Iraq purportedly found it handy to use the Baath Party for their own political purposes, excluding everyone else. Although it must be noted that in actual principle the Baath Party tries to eliminate religion from political purposes, and to lead the nation into national unity of sorts, it does not always succeed in the way it was intended to.
Take for example Sudan. This is a state made up of a mixed community in the Arab world, with people from different ethnicities living together. The population is made up of Arabs, Hamites, Negroid-Africans, and mixtures of all these groups, although almost 98 percent of the Northern population is from the Sunni Arab community, speaking Arabic. The South of Sudan is made up of diverse tribal groups of people, who speak several different languages and dialects, and who follow tribal religions, and Christianity.
The Southerners are traditionally fearful and feel great animosity towards the Northerners, and this has led to the development of a false idea that the Arabs of the North are but a replacement of the British who exploited the Arab world for several decades. (Caldarola, Carlo 1982) In Dawisha Adeed’s opinion, every Arab regime, no matter whether it is a radical or a non-radical one, would progress only if it were to be underpinned by the organizational structure and discipline that would be brought about by a social and political institution, in this case, the Baath party.
Such institutions would be able more effectively to peoples’ concerns than any other method, and because of its very nature, radical regimes tend to lay emphasis on the mobilization of society, thereby making it an important prerequisite for the internal credibility and trustworthiness of a country to allow the penetration of these ideals into every level of society. This is in all probability the basic reason why radical parties, such as the Baath party, for example, have traditionally relied on socially different institutions, so that the radical principles of the regime may be better and more easily implemented.
The Baath Party can therefore be described as one of the ‘core institutional units’ in Syria, as well as in Iraq. The party has been at various times described as being the “leading party in the state”, and as being one of the best examples of a “democratic, revolutionary and a unitary system”. (Dawisha, Adeed 1986) Take Iraq, for example. This is a country that has always been under the least threat of a civil war break-out, and yet, there have been two civil wars from the time of the Second World War: the Shammar war that lasted a year and the Kurdish war that lasted an entire fourteen years.
Some of the main factors in the historiography of Iraq and the insurgencies in the country have had almost no impact on the model that stated that Iraq would be free of insurgency and civil wars. The Baath Party overthrew the Qasim government of the country in 1963, and this led to a number of deaths, which qualify as a civil war. The Baath Party took up reins immediately afterwards, and set about executing almost three thousand communist members.
The Baath Party then joined the Arab Federation, prompting the Kurds to hike up their demands on the Sunni controlled state, and in 1968, the Kurds, fearing the Party intentions, started to increase their attacks. It was only in the year 1970 that the Baath Party agreed to sign a peace plan that would allow the Kurds to protect Iraqi borders. Things continued in this vein until 1974 when the Baath Party ordered the assassination of Barzani and son Idris, and this ignited the Kurd angst once again. Fearon, James 2006) Now one must examine the ruling Baathists in Syria to obtain a better picture of both, and the similarities and differences innate in them. In Syria in the year 1962, the interim civilian government was ousted, and the provisional constitution was eliminated. This led to the outbreak of a revolt, in which pro-Nasser officers in the northern part of Syria demanded that the relationship between Egypt and Syria must be renewed without fail, if there was to be peace in the state.
In 1963, an agreement to form a new United Arab Republic was signed, according to which Syria, Egypt and Iraq would be merged. However, this agreement had to be cancelled, on account of the increased tensions between Nasser and the Baathists in Syria. Nasser’s demands were that the Baathists and the Nasserites in Syria must form a single unified political camp, before they could invite Egypt to join them. The Baathists declined, leading to an assassination attempt on Louai-al-Atassi.
It would help to remember that similar developments were taking place in Iraq too at the same time, and the Revolutionary Command Council reported that it had successfully managed to thwart a plan by pro-Nasserites to arrest the Baathist President at the time, Abd as-Salam Arif. In Syria, at the same time, an attempt was made by pro-Nasserites to overthrow the Baathist government in the state of Damascus. By July 1963, it had become apparent to Nasser that it would not be possible at all to bring both Syria and Iraq under his wing, and this led the man to announce publicly that it would not be possible to form the ambitious new UAR. Sicker, Martin) Is it possible to take separately and individually the factors that were different or similar to each other in the Baathist rule in Syria, and in Iraq? Most historians do state that these factors are more similar in nature than different from each other. Insurgencies took place in both the countries, which were under the Baathist influence at the time. In Iraq, for example, which has been rightly acknowledged as being one of the most oppressive regimes of the world, great political changes have been taking place over the years, and with true rapidity.
As stated earlier, such rapid changes weaken the vigilance and the supervision of the security of the country, thereby paving the way for new political alignments, and allowing groups that would have been repressed under any other conditions to rise steadily. Nevertheless, what happened in Iraq has been considered strange by any standards, because of the fact that the insurgency developed at a time when the citizens of the country has started to feel a sense of openness and freedom within their country, and at a time when the political system in Iraq was not at its most repressive.
The insurgency that arose developed when Iraqis made attempts to form political parties, and the Sunnis were blamed for the various sins that Saddam Hussein, a member of the Baath party committed under his regime. It is important to remember that it was not merely one, but two insurgencies that took place at this time in the Arab world. While on one side Iraq was involved, in which Iraqis tried their best to reverse the various and several political developments brought into their country by Westerners, the Jihadi Salafis and the Baathists were responsible for the second insurgency.
While Iraqi citizens proposed an integration of Sunnis and nominal Baathists in a political process that would not allot too much power to the Shias and the Kurds, the Baathists and the Jihadi Salafis were more interested in not only ousting the occupation, but also in successfully eliminating the existing political system, so that there would be a roar of protest, thereby sparking off a sectarian civil war in the country. The Jihadi Salafis, more especially are religious fanatics, who are keen in establishing a so called Islamic state based on the role model of the Prophet.
The Baathists too have emulated the same principle, and the two have joined hands in perpetrating the most heinous crimes on mankind in recent years. Not only have the two sent out suicide bombers to kill innocent people, but they have also deployed other means to eventually rid their country of ‘polluting’ Western influences. (Hafez M Mohammed 2007) It has become obvious at this point that the differences between the ruling Baathists in Syria and the Baathists ruling Iraq are several.
While in Iraq, Saddam Hussein ruled the Baath Party, it was Hafez Assad in Syria who led the same party, and both men led the Baath Party towards control of political life in their respective countries. Herein lies the similarity, and the only difference lies in the basic nature of the crimes that were perpetrated by the members of the Baath Party under the leadership of these two dictators. Not only did the two leaders persecute the opposition figures, but they also ruled their states with extreme brutality and aggressiveness.
As a matter of fact, several assaults of various kinds were even launched against unsuspecting citizens of their own countries, especially if they showed any opposition tot heir regimes. Both Iraq and Syria have deep links with terrorist groups, and these groups are often consulted before an attack is launched against the West. (“Saddam of Iraq vs. Assad of Syria” 2004) It was in April 2007 that journalist Jamail Dahr met with a senior Baath member, a member who was at the time living anonymously, and in exile, in Syria.
Originally from Iraq, the individual, who preferred to be referred to as Abu Mohammed talked in detail about his life away from home, in exile. When asked about his position, his reply was that he was still a representative of the Baath Party, and of Iraq’s National Resistance. About Iraq’s propensity to get involved in violence, Abu Mohammed’s opinion was that Iraqi violence was, for the main part, against Western influences, especially American troops and their allies.
The reason why Iraqis kill each other was, according to the leader in exile, because of the simple fact that there were too many parties in the Arab world, and when these parties formed their militias, it resulted quite naturally in great confusion and disorder in the state. To add to this befuddled state of affairs, he stated, Americans insisted on invading Iraq, based on their assumption that Saddam Hussein had amassed ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
If the Americans wished to save face, their action must include negotiating with the resistance, and talking to the Baath Party leaders in Iraq, although it was a well known and acknowledged fact that Americans refused to negotiate with Baath Party leaders. The reason for this reluctance was that the Baath Party and the ongoing patriotic Iraqi resistance, in which participants were Islamists and some, Baathists, were the primary forces of resistance and opposition in Iraq.
If Americans could hold negotiations with both the Baathists and the Iraqi resistors, then perhaps a solution to the problem could be found, and Iraq could be finally well and truly liberated. When the interviewer asked the exiled Abu Mohamed if he had any message for the American President George Bush, his reply was that the President had insulted Iraq to a great extent, and that he was nothing but a liar and a cheat, because he was lying when he talked about American casualties in the ongoing insurgency and war against Iraq.
If the Americans were able to accord Iraqis the respect they deserved, then the Iraqis too would respect the Americans, and expect them to withdraw their troops from their land. Otherwise, he said, the Iraqis would not stop at this; they would not hesitate to charge the Americans in International Court, where they would have to answer for their misdeeds, not only in America, but also in front of the entire world. (Jamail, Dahr 2008) The problem has not been solved; America has considered getting into Syrian territory to confront Baathists in Iraq, and either capture them alive, or kill them.
America has made clear its wish to bring in a new Iraqi government, after ridding the world of such groups as the Baath Party. Therefore, in conclusion, it may be said that although it may be true that the ruling Baathists in Syria may have exhibited certain differences from the ruling Baathists in Iraq, it is obvious that both were similar in several aspects, and it is this that America and the world must confront if there were to be peace in the world in the future.