The Deterioration of Civil Society and Opposition Politics in the Police State of Saddam Husayn

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The purpose of this paper is to walk a narrow line between two historiographical conceptualizations of modern Iraq, a deterministic model that imagines Saddam Husayn as historically inevitable and an individualist model that blames everything wrong with modern Iraq on Husayn. In many ways, the two pictures of Husayn presented by modern scholarship represent a larger debate between structure and agency, in other words, were opposition parties and civil society organizations long-standing victims of institutional weaknesses in modern Iraq, or did Husayn target, and eliminate, these group with never-before-seen viciousness and tenacity. My argument, and my contribution to scholarship on modern Iraq, is that Husayn emerged from a broken political system built on patrimonialism, not pluralism, and thus was one in a long line of political despots, but that the ideology and violence of his particular political system was new and especially dangerous to political, and Party, opposition.

Chapter One follows the advent of Ba`thism in modern Iraq, its initial relationship with the ruling authorities, and, finally, the ways in which the Iraqi state was transformed, under Saddam Husayn, into a police state. Yet the transformation from republican Iraq, with all its institutional weaknesses and democratic imbalances, to the Ba`thist interpretation of republican Iraq is not only a story of the emergence of a police state based on the threat and use of violence. What exactly Ba`thism and politics meant to those in power and those outside of power is equally important. Therefore, Chapter One is not simply a history of the Ba`th regime, but also, in the words of Kanan Makiya, an "enquiry into its meaning." 

Chapter Two recapitulates and analyzes clerical and popular religious opposition to the state in modern Iraq, but focuses mainly on the Shi`i party al-Da`wa, an organization and movement that became, after the fall of communism and the rise of secular, pan-Arab Ba`thism, the most potent organization capable of defending Islamic values and Shi`i civil rights in Iraq.

Chapter Three follows the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), which was not merely an extension of Soviet communism, but a popular party of Iraqi nationalism. Like al-Da`wa, the ICP was one of the more influential, and more-often targeted, counter-hegemonic organizations in post-war Iraq. Its relationship with Ba`thism was particularly paradoxical and, eventually, particularly violent.