Saddam Husayn and Islam


2014-12-02  Our colleague Amatzia Baram has recently published a new book on Iraq.

We have interviewed Baram, a leading expert on Iraq, published an essay by him and have leveraged his work to suggest a shift in US policy towards Iraq.

His new book looks at the evolution of Iraq seen from the perspective of the impact of the work of Saddam Hussayn in the early 1980s.


The seemingly sudden resurgence of political Islam in the “Arab Spring” did not begin in 2011 nor did it start with al-Qa`ida in the 1990s. The contemporary wave of grassroots political Islam began in Iraq in the early 1980s and immediately exerted powerful influence over the policies of Saddam Husayn and his secular Ba`th regime. In a 1986 secret meeting of the Ba`th Pan-Arab Leadership headed by Michel `Aflaq, the party’s “Founding Father” (al-ab al-mu’assis), his Deputy Secretary General Saddam Husayn launched a profound revolution.

Dragging his reluctant comrades screaming and kicking he forced them to accept a truce, even a kind of alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the Sudan, among the Ba`th most hated, feared and despised enemies. In this he initiated an incremental long-term Islamization campaign that reached its peak just before the American tanks crushed their way into Baghdad.

When it was established by Aflaq, a Syrian Christian, in the early 1940s the Ba`th Party was very secular, even sending tantalizing sparks of atheism into the conservative Arab skies. Since 1968 as a ruling party in Baghdad the Ba`th made efforts to push religiosity out of the realms of politics, law, culture and education, and deep into the mosque and lock it there.

In 1977 in a programmatic public speech Saddam declared the shari`ah to be caduque, or irrelevant. However, by 2003 many walks of life were already at least partially Islamized.

When, why and how was it done and how did it touch the inner souls of party and leader?

Did Islamization rub deep into the tissue of party and president or was it merely a cynical pretense designed to deceive the Iraqi masses and the Islamic world?

Those questions are asked in the book.

Due to new information that became available with the rise of ISIS (ISIL), the conclusions that were only hesitantly suggested became more certain when the book was already in print.

ISIS was not born ex-nihilo: there is reason to believe that in part ISIS and its affiliates represent an ideological and political leap, using Saddam’s Islamization campaign as a stepping stone.

If correct, then ISIS is Saddam’s dead hand, thrusting as a fist out of his grave in Tikrit.

Saddam Husayn and Islam, 1968-2003: Ba`thi Iraq from Secularism to Faith