Tag Archives: Gulf War

Kamel Sachet and Islamism in Saddam’s Security Forces

1Book Review: The Weight of a Mustard Seed: The Intimate Life of an Iraqi Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny (2009) by Wendell Steavenson

By Kyle Orton
(@KyleWOrton) on October 24, 2015

Wendell Steavenson’s The Weight of a Mustard Seed—the title drawn from a verse of the Qur’an about the difference between attaining heaven and hell—comprises five years of research about Kamel Sachet Aziz al-Janabi, one of Saddam Hussein’s favourite and most senior generals.

Born in 1947, Kamel Sachet joined the Iraqi police straight from school in the mid-1960s and joined the army in 1975. Sachet was soon in the Special Forces, training in mountain warfare in Germany in 1978, taking part in joint exercises with Iranian Special Forces during the time of the Shah—learning Farsi along the way—and then being part of the Iraqi Special Forces advanced party sent to invade Iran after Ruhollah Khomeini’s takeover. Sachet would later be part of the elite forces sent to secure Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. After Saddam was evicted from Kuwait, Sachet, who had been slipping deeper and deeper into religious zeal from the early 1980s, was made governor of Maysan where he ran a de facto Salafi commune. Sachet was eventually removed from this post by regime internal intrigue, and was moved to a job in the office of the president. For reasons never definitively established, Sachet was murdered on Saddam Hussein’s orders on the first day of Operation DESERT FOX in December 1998.

Kamel Sachet’s story is an interesting one for what it says about the Saddam regime’s changing attitude toward Islamism as it ran its course, reversing the hard-secular outlook that prevailed at varying degrees of intensity from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and transforming into an Islamist State in the last fifteen years of the regime. Continue reading

Saddam, Sanctions, and Religious Solace in Iraq

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 18, 2015

Mural of Saddam Hussein at prayer on Al-Kadhimiya Mosque

Mural of Saddam Hussein at prayer on Al-Kadhimiya Mosque

In the 1990s, the combination of the sanctions and Saddam Hussein’s predatory regime debauched Iraq, ushering in a period of chaos, scarcity, and corruption as the regime gradually broke down. With a religious revival already underway, the population turned to faith for succour, and the regime encouraged this in a way that—in the wake of the brutal repression of the Shi’a rebellion after the first part of the Gulf War—hardened sectarian identities. The security services were deeply affected by the Saddam regime’s Islamization and the Salafists exploited their newfound freedom, and the regime’s increasing lack of capacity, to plot a future after Saddam. By 2003, these various organized Islamist strains, part in and part out of the regime, stood ready to succeed Saddam and had a more zealous and sectarian population to draw on. Saddam had set the stage for the emergence of something like the Islamic State long before Coalition troops invaded Iraq. Continue reading

Did Saddam Hussein Become A Religious Believer?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 12, 2015

Saddam Hussein prays at a mosque in Samarra, March 12, 1998 (AP Photo)

Saddam Hussein prays at a mosque in Samarra, March 12, 1998 (AP Photo)

It should be stated up front that the question posed in the headline is, strictly speaking, unanswerable: only Saddam Hussein could ever answer that question, and even then any out-loud answer given by Saddam could be untrue in any number of directions, for any number of reasons. Still, from the available evidence it does seem Saddam had some kind of “born-again” experience.

Of crucial importance, however, is that while Saddam’s actual beliefs had a significant impact in providing some of the colour and shape to the Faith Campaign, even if one believes Saddam remained a secularist and Islamized his regime as a wholly cynical means of shoring-up support, this is completely irrelevant to the effect this Islamization had. Saddam put in place a governmental administration that created a religious movement, which brought men to a faith they otherwise would not have had, and in combination with the increased sectarianism fostered by Saddam’s regime, this prepared the ground for al-Qaeda and its offshoots like the Islamic State (ISIS) in the aftermath of the regime. Continue reading

Saddam and the Taliban

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on June 29, 2015

Alleged photograph of Mullah Omar. Other photos are very rare

Alleged photograph of Mullah Omar. Other photos are very rare

In examining the Saddam Hussein regime’s long relationship with al-Qaeda, a noticeable sub-theme is the connections the Saddam regime had with the Taliban theocracy in Afghanistan. The evidence accumulated suggests that Saddam’s policies in his later years, namely the Islamization of his own regime and instrumentalization of Islamists in foreign policy, included welcoming relations with the Taliban. Continue reading

Saddam and the Islamists, Part 2

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 20, 2015

Umm al-Qura (Mother of All Cities) Mosque, built by Saddam to commemorate his

Umm al-Qura (Mother of All Cities) Mosque, built by Saddam to commemorate his “victory” in the 1991 Gulf War

In December, I wrote a post, “Iraq Is Still Suffering The Effects Of Saddam Hussein’s Islamist Regime,” which was a review/analysis of an academic paper by Samuel Helfont that pointed out that the Saddam Hussein regime had, since the 1980s, used Islamists, including al-Qaeda, as part of its foreign policy. I critiqued the paper a little for having said it would not comment on Saddam’s internal policy with the Islamists, while in fact the paper hinted that Saddam remained hostile to mixing religion and politics. I noted that the evidence does not support this: Saddam’s regime adopted overt theocratic trappings before the end.

There were two kinds of pushback to the idea that Saddam’s regime was Islamist. Predictably, one critique was related to the controversy over the way the Gulf War that Saddam started in 1990 was ended; opponents of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are heavily invested in the Saddam-as-secularist narrative, often coupled with the “Bush lied” hysteria—in this case about a connection between the Saddam regime and al-Qaeda—to say that the invasion empowered a previously, officially-repressed Islamism in Iraq. This simply is not borne out by the evidence. There was also pushback from some Iraqis. But this too was predictable: as I outlined in that post, drawing on Ali Allawi’s book on post-Saddam Iraq, one of the reasons so many people with no agenda get the Islamist aspect of the Saddam regime wrong is that when they turn to what they believe is the best primary source—namely the Iraqis in the West—they encounter a source that for various reasons is actually several decades out-of-date.

Buttressing my initial argument is a 2011 paper, “From Militant Secularism to Islamism: The Iraqi Ba’th Regime 1968-2003,” in which Amatzia Baram provides evidence from Iraqi internal documents and tapes of Cabinet meetings captured after the fall of Baghdad to show that Saddam’s regime had formed an alliance with Islamists in the mid-1980s for use in its foreign policy, and from a bit later in the 1980s had begun steps toward Islamizing Iraq internally. Continue reading

Book Review: Cruelty and Silence (1993) by Kanan Makiya

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on April 7, 2014

 

Kanan Makiya is of that very small school of Arab writers—Fouad Ajami, Ali Allawi, and Said Aburish about the only others—who write as if the Arabs had any agency at all in the decline of their world. The first part of the book deals with the cruelty of the Arab world in general but the Saddam Hussein regime in particular, Continue reading