Baathism, or “renaissance” is an anti-colonial and pan-Arabist doctrine dating all the way back to 1943. At the time, Baathism called for the rejection of the “Western civilization’s invasion of the Arab mind”. Aflaq, one of the founding fathers of Baathism spoke of Islam as being a proof of ‘Arab genius’,

“Europe is as fearful of Islam today as she has been in the past. She now knows that the strength of Islam (which in the past expressed that of the Arabs) has been reborn and has appeared in a new form: Arab nationalism”. ~ Michel Aflaq, 1943

What followed was the combination of the socialist ideology compounded by nationalism. Later, Baathists attempted to restore their power through a number of different tracks over the past decade: secularism, insurgency, and ‘terrorism’

After the 1963 coup that first gave the Baathists a share of power in Iraq’s government, Saddam Hussein became head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service secret (Jihaz Al-Mukhabarat Al-Amma), and collected meticulous dossiers on friends and enemies alike. Saddam used these dossiers to carry out the bloodless 1968 coup that brought his party to full control of Iraq.

With support from the West, Saddam and his Baathist party gained prominence throughout the Middle East and were used to cause sectarian strife in the region. In 1980 Saddam declared War on Tehran, an estimated one million lives were lost as a result. Even within his own nation the western appointed dictator surpressed the Shia and Kurdish population. With the tacit encouragement of Washington, the Iraqi Shia and the Kurds rebelled against Saddam. The dissenters were massacred by Saddam’s military, and the US reneged on its pledge to support the uprising.

Events preceding 9/11 indicated the end of Saddam’s reign. Saddam and his Baathist regime became the central focus of the U.S ‘War on Terror’. The U.S invaded Iraq on the false accusation of holding weapons of mass destruction and quickly toppled Iraq’s Baathist regime. Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death, and on 30th December 2006 he was hanged. The Iraqi Baathist’s were officially put on the ash heaps of history, or were they?

Baathist ISIS

ISIS’s roots in Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party are deep — many of the group’s most devoted commanders, advisers and fighters started out as Baathists. The ex-Baathists essentially run ISIS, and their past is evident in the tactics they are using now.

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Before the declaration of the self proclaimed “Caliphate”, the Baathists assisted ISIS, then known as Al-Qaeda of Iraq (AQI), to rush into Iraq and secure key areas. Even in the Second Battle of Tikrit, Baathists were a prominent component of ISIS forces.

Iraqi Baathists, who went underground following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003, clearly were never put on the ash heap of history. These Baathists, engrained with an ideology with tribal and Sunni attributes, bided their time, seeing greater and more hateful treatment by the Shiite government in Baghdad under former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

It is reasonable to gather that Iraqi Baathists have been and are helping ISIS with military tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). Top Baathists, at the beginning of ISIS included former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Saddam Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who headed the group’s military council. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had allegedly sought to win the support and loyalty of both men, as well as other experienced former Iraqi army officers from very early on.

In addition, Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi usually known as Haji Bakr, a former spy for Saddam, became chief of military operations for ISIS. Der Spiegel magazine recently obtained Haji Bakr’s handwritten notes and organizational diagrams for creating an ISIS spy agency based on Saddam’s own intelligence agencies. The notes, the magazine reported that the ex-Baathists ran almost everything in Iraq after the U.S. invasion. Since 2003 these ex-Baathists have been ruthlessly pulling the strings of the jihadists in Iraq. First they facilitated al Qaeda’s entry into the insurgency, then they built them hundreds of car bombs and provided intelligence. Haji Bakr is a classic example of an ex-Baathist spy who brought his Saddam-era human intelligence skills to ISIS.

Recall that from the moment the U.S. Army entered Baghdad, the coming Sunni terror insurgency was manned by almost 100,000 Former Regime Loyalist (FRL) officers. This number included 30,000 commandos from Saddam’s Fedayeen; 26,000 Special Republican Guards; 31,000 spies, analysts and enforcers from five major intelligence agencies; as well as 6,000 seasoned combat officers — all freshly fired by U.S. Ambassador Bremer through his General Order #2. These people didn’t vanish into thin air after the invasion; they went underground, as had been planned long before the war, and formed the largest insurgent group in Iraq, the Army of the Mujahideen. They also took over others, such as Ansar al Sunna, giving them an Islamic flavour to inspire resistance. Simply put, ISIS today is essentially a Baathist-organized amalgamation of virtually every Sunni tribal and foreign jihadist insurgent group.

Watch ‘ISIS origins: Saddam Husseins Iraq?’, a short documentary created by Channel 4 News

~ Jahir Kashem

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