Tell us a little about Saddam’s background.
Saddam Hussein was born to a very poor family in a village called Al Awja, which is next to the town of Tikrit. As a young boy he stole eggs, and he stole chickens, things like that, so that his family could eat. He was a typical victim of poverty and backwardness. He became a gun man, a thug for the Ba'ath Party. In 1959 he participated in the failed assassination attempt on Iraqi leader General Kassem. Then he went into exile in Cairo. Saddam went back to Iraq after the Ba'ath took power.
What can you tell us about the CIA’s role in bringing Saddam and the Baath to power?
The Ba'ath Party and the United States were afraid that Iraq was going communist. The visits to the American embassy by Saddam Hussein and other members of the Ba'ath Party had one purpose, and one purpose only: to co-operate with the Americans towards the overthrow of General Kassem in Iraq. Kassem was slightly pro-communist. Kassem was dependant on the Iraqi Communist Party. A popular communist slogan of the time was “there is no leader but Kareem”, an adaptation of an Islamic oath “there is no god but Allah”. The US wanted to get rid of that danger. Allen Dulles, then CIA chief, described Iraq as the most dangerous part of the earth in front of a congressional committee. The Ba'ath thought Kassem was their enemy, so there was a mutuality there.
The U.S. involvement in the coup against Kassem in Iraq in 1963 was substantial. CIA agents were in touch with army officers who were involved in the coup. An electronic command center was set up in Kuwait to guide the Baathist forces. They supplied the conspirators with lists of people who had to be eliminated immediately in order to ensure success. The relationship between the Americans and the Ba'ath Party at that moment in time was very close, and that continued for some time after the coup. There was an exchange of information between the two sides: it was one of the first times that the United States was able to get certain models of Mig fighters and certain tanks made in the Soviet Union. That was the bribe. That was what the Ba'ath had to offer the United States in return for their help in eliminating Kassem.
Not long after the coup the Soviet Union turns to Saddam. He personally leads a delegation to Moscow. What game is the Soviet Union playing?
What game? The game is unnamed, but the Iraqi workers were the ones being played. Alliances of convenience don't last very long. The Ba'ath Party was committed to certain things which American foreign policy could not tolerate.
Why? The things they needed, the Baathis couldn't get from the United States. They needed help economically and they needed arms. And the United States was not in the business of openly supplying arms to Arab countries to re-equip themselves for another round of fighting against Israel. The marriage of convenience was over. Saddam knew he could get the arms from Russia and he journeyed to Russia--this was his first trip outside Iraq apart from his exile. And he got what he wanted.
In 1972, Iraq and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of friendship and co-operation. They wanted to seal the co-operation taking place between them in a formal alliance. The reason Saddam signed that treaty of friendship and co-operation was because that obligated the local communist party, which was still very strong, to co-operate with the Ba'ath Party, which was still not strong. Of course the Russians loved an opportunity to have a hold on Iraq and they signed the treaty and told the local communist party to join the Iraqi government. That alliance internally did not last very long. But the external one was on and off for a very long time. The Soviet Union at one point thought Iraq was a more important ally than Egypt. Its army always acquitted itself in battle better than the Egyptian army. Unlike Egypt, Iraq was a wealthy country. It was the gateway to the Gulf. It represented a more immediate threat to the West's lifeline than Egypt did.
Do we know whether or not Saddam has actually studied Stalin's tactics?
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Saddam studied Stalin. Stalin is his hero. Stalin came from a humble background. Stalin was brought up by a mother. Stalin used thugs. Stalin used the security service. Stalin hated his army. And so does Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein models himself after Stalin more than any other man in history. He has a full library of books about Stalin. He reads about him, and when he was a young man--even before he attained any measure of power--he used to prowl around the offices of the Ba'ath Party telling people 'wait until I take over this country. I will make a Stalin state out of it yet.' People used to laugh him off. They shouldn't have. It was a very serious proposition indeed.
Saddam Hussein borrowed from Stalinism. He had his security people trained in Eastern Europe, particularly East Germany. Then he brought them back to Iraq and he taught them how to use the tribal linkage to eliminate people. They used Stalinist methods to discover people who were opposed to the regime, after that came the tribal methods, when Saddam said 'don't get rid of Abdullah, get rid of his whole family. Don’t leave a single member of his family that might one day assassinate us.' And that made it a perfect system for Iraq. It is practically fool-proof.
In the early seventies, Saddam started out controlling one small department called the Peasants Department. At that time the Ba'ath regime, for a very brief period of time, paid lip service to bringing democracy to Iraq. Came the time for them to assign the job of head of the security system, no one from the inner circle wanted the job. Everybody said 'this is a dirty job. I don't want it.' Saddam Hussein raised his hand and said 'I want the job. I'll take over the security system.'
He took over the security system, called it the Department of General Relations and proceeded to expand it. This was his first step towards attaining power. In no time at all, Saddam was head of Security, he was head of the Peasants Department, he was head of Relations with the Kurds, he was head of the committee that controlled the oil. He was head of the committee that controlled relations with the Arab countries. He was head of the Workers Syndicate. In everything but name, he was head of government.
There was a conflict between all these departments that Saddam controlled so tightly and the armed forces. The armed forces is the one organization capable of overthrowing the government. Saddam proceeded to emasculate the army and place his professional soldier relations from Tikrit in key positions. For example, his brother-in-law became Chief of Staff of the Army. And of course soon enough, like all people who are dictators, who are jealous of the army, he appointed himself General and eventually like Stalin he became Field Marshal. Saddam’s hatred for the army as a rival culminates in his starting vicious wars against his neighbours, wars where the high number of casualties in the army was not only accepted, but welcomed.
In July of 1979, after the Iranian revolution, Saddam, still officially only vice-president, makes a visit to Amman, capital of Jordan. And, at the same time, he meets with CIA agents there. What is he doing? And what are the consequences of this trip?
Before starting the war with Iran, Saddam Hussein went on a tour of several Arab countries. His first stop was Amman in Jordan. And there he had two things he did not have in other places: an indirect line to the Americans through King Hussein, who has always been a “friend” of America, and, the possibility of meeting three senior CIA agents who were there, not to spy on Jordan, but to use Jordan as a listening post for the rest of the Middle East.
There is absolutely no doubt that Saddam discussed his plans to invade Iran with King Hussein. There is considerable evidence that he discussed his plans to invade Iran with the CIA agents that King Hussein prevailed on him to meet with. After that he flew to Saudi Arabia and there is a record of him telling King Fahd that he is going to invade Iran, and then after that, I think he had a stop-over in Kuwait and he did the same thing. What the trips did was to guarantee him American support in invading Iran. Financial support from the oil producing countries after their invasion and a channel to buy arms.
So you can look at this picture as having begun with this tour that Saddam took immediately before he invaded Iran. He was protecting his back with conservative regimes. With pro-West regimes. He was not protecting his back with the USSR. As a matter of fact the USSR cut off the flow of arms to Iraq once it invaded Iran. And Saddam had to rely exclusively on Western armament for three years until the USSR changed its mind and start selling to him again. They saw that they were losing out in Iraq because the West was willing to give him everything he wanted.
You have told us about the links of the Baath to the CIA, to the USSR, yet you remain a communist, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union?
There will be future generations, future battles. The defeat and the deformed nature of the Soviet Union does not legitimize imperialism. It simply means that we have to do better next time, be more vigilant. The world communist movement cannot survive another betrayal of the scale of the 3rd International’s.
There is no doubt that Stalinism played a huge role in bringing the Baath to power. The Communist movement needs to understand this fact, and learn from it. There will be future generations of fighters such as yourself, who will succeed. What you told me earlier about resistance in Iraq is testament to the strength of the Iraqi movement. After thirty years of repression, the Baathists still have to contend with an Iraqi proletarian revolt. How do you defeat a movement like ours?
Here are some excerpts from an article that details the workers’ uprising that swept much of Iraq at the beginning of 1991. These details will surprise many readers, because a deliberate policy of disinformation has led many people to identify the 1991 rebellion with Kurdish nationalism and Shiite fundamentalist Islamism, not working class revolution.
The background to the events of 1991 was the widespread violent resistance to the Iran-Iraq war by worker in both countries. Demonstrations and mass desertions, sabotage and strikes, widespread killings of cops and army officers, and even attacks on forces loyal to the state by battalion-sized groups of armed deserters all occurred in Iraq in the 1980s. Indeed, the resistance to the Iran-Iraq War was perhaps the most extensive opposition to a war effort anywhere in the world since the wave of revolutions that ended World War I.
Before the launching of the US-UN invasion in early 1991, the general situation in Iraq was very explosive. From the moment that the Coalition warplanes started dropping their tons of bombs on the South of Iraq at first, workers started moving up to Baghdad, fleeing famine and desolation. They were immediately joined by thousands of starving deserters. In the face of this situation, the Iraqi State had no other solution but to move more reliable troops from the North into the area to prevent these thousands of proletarians from fleeing to Baghdad. But by moving these more loyal troops to the South, the Iraqi State destabilized even more the situation in the North. Uprisings took place nearly everywhere, as soon as the war stopped. Basra, in the South, and Mossoul, Arbil, Kirkuk, and Sulaimania, in the North, were all in a state of insurrection by March.
Thousands of militants from various regions converged in the North - Turks from Kirkuk, Iranians who had fled the war and repression at the time in Iran, and so on. Because cities such as Halabja and Qal'at Dizah had been decimated by Saddam a few years before, they took refuge around Sulaimania, where more than 70,000 militants organised themselves for revolution. Despite the media's insistence on the entirely spontaneous nature of the uprising in Sulaimania, it is now clear that it was the result of intense organization undertaken by vanguard minorities. Their militant activity was intense in the six months before the uprising. A group called Communist Perspective was formed and their publication, The Worker, was distributed amongst militants. When riots broke out during the occupation of Kuwait, comrades from Communist Perspective organized debates with other militant minorities.
The militants decided to seize Sulaimania on the 8th of March at 1300 hours. Groups were formed and given specific targets - barracks, police stations, secret police and information headquarters, the "United Nations Hotel", and main entrances to the city... The army could sense the growing hatred and tension and was forecasting that something would blow. Nevertheless, the offensive on Sulaimania took them by surprise - the city was attacked from all sides simultaneously. In the course of the attack in the city, more and more workers joined the fighting.
When the barracks were taken over, arms were distributed to proletarians prepared to fight. They were given orders to attack milk stores (milk had been rationed), and to attack prisons and release prisoners. Like every significant proletarian insurrection, the struggle was against the State itself, and aimed to attack all its manifestations: military, police, public buildings, parties, and security and property documents. On hearing that the Baathists had hidden in a park outside the town, proletarians descended on it, shouting: "Long live the Shura - abolish the State!" "We want soviets!"
Soon the Shuras ("Shura" means "workers' council" in Persian and Kurdish) movement was born. Workers wanted to use the Shuras to organise a new society in place of the state and the capitalists they had seized power from. There were 56 Shuras in Sulaimania in the beginning, including the Refuse Collectors, Cement, Cloth, Cigarette, and Sugar factory workers' Shuras. Existing Shuras would call for people to set up further ones in their own areas. However, many of them had widely conflicting viewpoints and so people would tend to join the Shura most closely representing their own ideas. The "exploited" organized themselves into Shuras in most camps, villages, and towns in liberated areas of Kurdistan. Slogans used by the Shuras included ‘The only alternative to the Baathist regime is the Shuras’, ‘Freedom of speech, opinion, and organization’, ‘For a 35 hour working week’, ‘Equal rights for men and women’ ‘We demand Workers' Councils, not parliamentary democracy’, and ‘We should be armed to safeguard the Shuras' rule’.
The insurgent workers refused to let Kurdish nationalists enter the cities. The latter then tried to encircle the cities, meeting this way many soldiers on their way home from the front. The encircling of the cities by the nationalist parties allowed them to make the world believe that they were "in control" of these cities; but the only control that they actually assumed was the control of the repression of proletarians returning home from the front.
In the South of Iraq, uprisings started as the allies' land offensive began. The workers' situation became increasingly unbearable due to massive bombings of Basra, Ammarah, Naseriyah, Najaf, and Karbala. Organised minorities centralized their activities and struggles took place around all these cities.
Contrary to everything that has been said about the religious nature of the movement, religion played no part in the proletarians' struggle. Najaf and Karbala are sacred cities for Shiites but the uprising had nothing to do with Islam, despite what the bourgeois press try to make us believe. Workers used sacred sites to hang Baathists. Mausoleums were riddled with bullets and angry workers pissed in the mosques. Difficult, therefore, to talk of "religious fanaticism!" The Allies had reached the gates of Najaf and Karbala at the time of the uprisings there.
Neither the government, the nationalists, nor the Allied forces managed to control the situation in Iraq in March 1991. This is why they had to form an alliance. In the South, it was clear that the US-led force halted its land offensive to permit the Iraqi Army to carry out an attack on the insurgents. As the Iraqi Army descended on the cities, chaos ensued and deserters fled in all directions. Some asked for asylum and aid from the Allied troops but were told, "we'll give you something to drink if you're thirsty, but only in exchange for your weapons." They were then sent back, unarmed, to the city to be massacred, in what was just one example of collaboration between Saddam and the Allies against the uprising.
The army and the nationalists retook Sulaimania in mid-April. Now, following the reinvasion of towns by the Barbaric Baathist regime, social and political perspectives are as before with famine, misery, poverty, unemployment threatening the lives of workers more than ever. However, the dissatisfaction that sprung up well before the uprising will continue to spur on a battle against this world, carrying the memories of the uprising with it.
The above excerpts come from a much longer article published in Communism #7, the April 1992 issue of the central review in English of the Internationalist Communist Group, under the title The Unknown Insurrection: Armed Uprising and Workers' Councils in Iraq, 1991. The ICG, which had supporters and contacts in Iraq during the March 1991 rebellion, has a website at http://www.geocities.com/Paris/6368/