The Legibility of Power and Culture in Ba‘thist Iraq from 1968-1991
Degerald, Michael Kenneth
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From 1968 until 1991, the state led by the Iraqi Ba‘th Party fought a war against groups in Iraq that did not comply with state dictates. Situated in the Third World of postcolonial lineage, Iraq was in a milieu shaped by regional tensions and the larger Cold War. This work traces a battle of ideas waged by the Iraqi Ba‘th on its political opposition, drawing on Ba’th Regional Command Committee (BRCC) files held at the Hoover Institute and hundreds of publications from various branches of the Iraqi government controlled by the Iraqi Ba‘th. The dissertation’s introduction wrestles with the complex ethical issues of using such controversial archives. Each chapter of this dissertation takes a different lens to explore Iraqi cultural, intellectual, and media history, with the aim of contributing to understandings of the Ba‘th period in Iraq and its complex legacy. I show that transnational influences from Soviet interventions around the Third World had a direct impact on Iraqi Ba‘thist discourse and cultural production. With the United States distant and ideologically demonized, the Soviet Union proved to be more influential on Iraq, a relationship that eventually turned sour. Iraq had been a member of the Non-Aligned Movement since the movement’s beginning but this membership took on new importance when Saddam Hussein issued the I‘lan al-Qawmi in February of 1980, attempting to promote solidarity among Arab and postcolonial nations as well as pre-empt a potential superpower invasion. Consistent with Iraq’s place in the larger postcolonial milieu, programs to increase literacy were key to attempts to develop society and a stronger Iraqi economy to challenge economic imperialism. These literacy programs were remarkable in their size, scope, and overall results, but they neither eradicated illiteracy nor consistently generated support for the Party, illustrating the limits of the Party’s ability to reshape society as it aimed. Drawing on larger debates about tradition and heritage in the postcolonial world as well as in the Arab region, Iraqi Ba‘thist use of turath or heritage in state discourse was central to efforts to win this battle of ideas. Al-Turath al-Sha‘bi (Popular Heritage) was a successful and influential state journal that arguably represented the pluralism of Iraqi society throughout the 1970s until being commandeered by the Iraqi Ba‘th to increasingly serve as its mouthpiece from the 1980s onward. In contrast, Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Ba‘th moved away from this pluralism in heritage discourse and insisted on the connection between Islam and Arabism (din wa turath) as that which gave their qawmiyya (Pan-Arab nationalism) strength. As such, debates about turath are shown in Chapter Four as a prelude for a later embrace of Islam by the Iraqi Ba‘th. Finally, the Iraqi Ba‘th used a series of discourses and techniques to manage and repress Iraqi political opposition from 1968-1991. Spatial Arabization campaigns targeting Kirkuk accelerated with the use of shu‘ubiyya discourse, shown here to begin in February 1980 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, continuing throughout the war against Iran. The Iraqi Ba‘th racialized its enemies as Persians discursively while likewise Arabizing groups into the Iraqi nation, attempting to redefine race based on loyalty to the Iraqi Ba‘th. The racialized categories of “Persians” and “shu‘ubis” were not accepted by Iraqi opposition groups and thus these attempts at racialization did not ultimately shape new categories of identity. Such racialized discourses did, however, stimulate sectarianism in Iraqi society. These pernicious, divisive, and violent tactics haunt Iraq to this day.