Saddam Hussein was a member of the Iraqi Baath party. In his brilliant analysis of Saddams Iraq the author Kanan Makiya illustrates how the Baathist regime managed to hold the Iraqi population in its grip for so long.
Children from 5 and up where indoctrinated with Baathist ideology in the old Iraq. The children where encouraged to spy and tell on their parents if they heard them backtalking the party. During Baath party rule the Iraqi litteracy rate was raised as the output of state propaganda soared. Women where brought into the workplace and the country was developed. Meanwhile, personal freedoms sank-all in the name of progress. Similar developments can be seen in the revolutionary governments of Cuba, China, Vietnam and Algeria. Development took the place of freedom.
Baathist Iraq built itself as a movement and in power on Stalinist norms. It contained both the crude violence and primitive isolationist outlook on one hand while at the same time pushing forward extensive mass education and a modern planned economy. Just like Stalin, the Baath party used the countries "backwardness" as an excuse to resort to extreme measures of violence. And just like Stalin, the Baath party managed to create a more powerfull nation, while at the same time unleashing a regime of terror.
It became necessary for Iraqi civilians to wear a "mask". One could never speak openly about the fear, violence and conformity in the society without risking being punished. So the Iraqi citizen would become like "a snail sealed in a shell". The personality becomes liquidated in the oppressor group and its values. Saddams image was everywhere. On a typical radio broadcast his name was mentioned thirty to fifty times an hour. Saddams images appeard on TV several hours a day. Children had to memorize verses in his honor.
The USSR and East Germany imported "the methods, investments and structures needed for the effective torturing institutions" in Iraq. The Iraqi Baathist state systematically invaded its citizens privacy, denied their individuality and generated fear. Torture was the "apex of that system". Things like public hangings, corpse displays, rape rooms, executions, confession rituals and torture where all used to breed fear in the Iraqi population.
The main idea of Baath government was to uproot individuals from their traditional groups and tribes, thereby destructing the social reality. This would then be replaced by a "new state-centralized network of relationships. The undifferentiated Leviathan like mass that emerged was in principle either hostile to or sealed off from other "partial" non-Baathist sense of belonging." The Baathist view of the world was split up into extremes. On one side the infinetly good(socialism and pan-Arabism) and on the other side the infinetley bad (Zionism, imperialism and foreign agents).
Baathism rose to power out of the Pan-Arabist movement. According to the author, this was a movement intent on getting rid of western colonialism and zionism. It had its roots in Syria in reaction to French rule and it had many of its first members in the officers corps there. They were also opposed to communism. They thought that the Syrian communist party had too strong connections to France and that it was tainted by Russian thinking which could hurt Arabic traditionalism. In their first programmatic statement they proclaimed: "We represent the Arab spirit against materialist communism". The Baath saw their mission being to exorcise the demons of imperialist communism from a degenerate colonized society. They appealed primarily to those who felt threatend by the rootlessness that came about due to modernization, population growth and urbanization.
To the old Baath founder, Aflaq, "Communism is western, and alien to everything Arab", and was the culmination of the humanistic tradition from Europe.When the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in 1958 the communists had achieved a significant degree of power within the country. The Iraq leader at that point became Abd al-Karim Qasim, a nationalist Iraqi military officer, who claimed power by overthrowing the monarchy in a coup détat. He supported the Communists in Iraq and was inturn overthrown by a Baathist coup in 1963. The Baath party purged the communist at this point. Hunting them down in the streets, killing as many as they could find. Qasim was himself executed. His corpse was tied to a chair and filmed, where in the final sequence a soldier spits in the corpses face. This material was shown nightly on Iraqi televsion (this has similarities to the videos circulating on the internet of Saddam Husseins execution). In 1969 the first purges began against the Jewish population of Iraq. Saying that they where spies and imperialists. Gruesome spectacles where put on were the population was brought out to witness public executions. This would later be reenacted in 1979. But then it wasnt a question of a small group of political outcasts. In 1979 the top leaders of the Baath party itself were purged when Saddam Hussein took over power in Iraq.