Iraq needs another National Party: Tariq Aziz’s Baath Party Ruined the Country

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | —

Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister and former foreign minister of Iraq, is dead at 79. He died in prison in the custody of the Shiie-dominated government he tried to forestall.

Aziz was born Mikhael Yuhanna (Michael John) into a Chaldean Catholic family. He gravitated to the Baath Party because of his support for Arab nationalism. (In the twentieth century, religious minorities often supported nationalist or leftist secular parties that downplayed the differences among the nation’s constituencies).

Aziz was not a nice man, and his Baath Party was not a nice party. It erected a nasty one-party state. He joined in the paranoia of his friend Saddam Hussein after the latter’s ascent to power, in which hundreds of Baath Party functionaries were summarily killed on suspicion of insufficent loyalty after Saddam’s 1979 coup.

Aziz supported the wanton invasion of Iran in 1980 that kicked off one of the worst wars of the 20th century outside the world wars– the Iran- Iraq War. He also favored the invasion of little Kuwait in 1990, which led to the Gulf War.

After a Shiite attempt to assassinate him in 1979, he was uninterested in minority rights and as a Christian feared political Islam.

He turned himself in in April, 2003, after the fall of the Saddam regime at the hands of George W. Bush. He was eventually tried and sentenced to 15 year in prison, then life imprisonment, then death, though ever more charges and courts were allowed to pursue further cases against him.

His nemesis, the Da`wa Islamic Party (the Islamic Call or Islamic Mission) had come to power by the time he was tried. Almost the only people who vote for Da`wa are the Shiite Arabs. The Kurds vote for the Kurdish Alliance coalition. The Sunnis voted for various parties, most recently the Iraqiya, before being swallowed by the so-called caliphate.

The Baath Party gave secular Arab nationalism a bad name, but secular politics is needed in Iraq. The Baath Party gave socialism a bad name, but Iraqis need socialist policies.

Aziz’s authoritarian and paranoid one-party state was what began the deformation of modern Iraq, and led in some ways to the current impasse. Iraq needs more parties, not less.

Something like a Labor Party that working people of all religious backgrounds and ethnicities could support is desperately needed in Iraq.

Related video:

BBC: “Iraq: Tariq Aziz ‘dies in prison’ – BBC News”

16 Responses

  1. Fariba Behnegar

    In an ideal world, every nation needs a multiple-party for their political infrastructure. Even the ‘powerful’ Western countries, with all their progressions in secularism, have not been able to go beyond bi-partisan model. I am not sure if a sovereignty allowing multiple-party movement will ever have a chance of survival in that part of the world based on egotistical patriarchy and so prone to corruption.

    • Yes. I loved his press conferences that he held everyday during desert storm. The U.S. and its coalition were hammering hell out of Iraq, and up appears Tariq, who spoke good, clear English, and who daily presented the “facts” from an entirely parallel universe—it seemed. Was he the author of the expressions that the invasion would be “the mother of all wars,” and that Iraq would “pluck the eyes out” of any intruders?

  2. You may be right professor, but I recall reading a piece written by a Shiite in Baghdad pointing out that when Saddam Hussein was running the Country, he and his Sunni neighbour could go down to the Tigris river at midnight fishing and they had absolutely no fear of anyone, including the police and military. They certainly can’t do that now, by day or night. Even going to local market to get food is an ordeal, with police checks etc. Saddam and Tariq may well not have been everyone’s idea of a best friend, but at least they kept order where all could go about their business in a terror free environment !!

    • Geez, pro-Saddam propaganda has a long life.

      Saddam killed thousands of people for holding the wrong political views, including many, many Shiites.

      • Saddam did indeed kill Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds. Nevertheless, the life of an ordinary Iraq under the Ba’ath dictatorship of Hussein/Bakr was much better than the life of an ordinary Iraqi today. You can use any healthcare, education, security, crime stability measure you like and you will find my statement to be accurate.

  3. Dr. Cole,

    If I’m not mistaking, both Iraqi presidents since the invasion have been Sunni, why does it seem like they have no power? I know Al Maliki has been a terrible PM and maybe set the country back another decade, but if Iraq can see some semblance of stability soon, do you think Haider Al Abidi will be any better at including minorities in Iraq?
    The most respected Ayatollah in the work, Sistani, has always preached inclusiveness and minority rights, hopefully the politicians will finally listen to him.

    • the Iraqi constitution authorizes a parliamentary system with a powerful prime minister; the president is symbolic.

  4. “…after the fall of the Saddam regime at the hands of George W. Bush, [Tariq] was eventually tried and sentenced to 15 year in prison, then life imprisonment, then death…”
    So how come he died in prison instead of at the gallows?

  5. Dr Cole, Are we sure Iraq is ready for democracy? Has any nation moved successfully from autocracy to democracy under external pressure? Evolution from one constitutional system to another is surely best left an internal process; there is a 5th century Greek proverb that ‘One should fit the stone to the line, not the line to the stone’. The context was building, and bricklayers still follow it today; one chooses shoes to fit feet rather than selecting shoes and forcing feet into them. Hegel articulated the notion that a satisfactory outcome to division requires rising above the opposing principles to a level at which they are reconciled. I don’t see how that can be done without some common cohesive vision and purpose. It worked in Iran. The West may not like the pace at which Iran is evolving, or the stages for that matter, but surely life is better there than in Iraq, and there is a tunnel with light at the end.

  6. It is good to hear you speak of socialism as a means to moderate the politics of religious, ethnic, and regional factionalism. While the USSR might well have failed in Afghanistan, it did seem like the best bet there for progress over a few decades. The US creation of Al Qaeda to oppose them there, and its overthrow of the social democracy in Iran under Mossadegh in 1953, were examples of money in US politics and mass media leading to protracted disasters in foreign policy. I wonder what the comparative body counts would have been, had the US pursued reconciliation between Iran and Iraq rather than another Hollywood invasion?

  7. [Something like a Labor Party that working people of all religious backgrounds and ethnicities could support is desperately needed in Iraq.]

    12 years is quite a lot for civil wars and revolutions. Now the Iraqi Baath and its officials are irrelevant, unified Iraq is non-existent. Baghdad is under a serious threat of falling to ISIL and there is no end of civil war in sight. So, I simply don’t understand what Iraqi Labor party this is about.

    • I think so too.

      If we were nice about it, we could start a New Deal Revival Party. If we have to get mean about it we can start a Lower Class WarParty.

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