Did the Baath Party and Iraq itself become a “cult” under the rule of Saddam?

The Baath political party is described as “entrenched in Saddam’s cult of personality,” by the China Post.

It is interesting to note that though there were 2 million Iraqis who claimed affiliation with the Baath Party, only 40,000 were actually “full members.” And that status required a multi-level process before final acceptance.

But rather than this process being based upon “cult brainwashing,” it is more likely that loyalty to Saddam was created through fear and greed.

The Baath Party that began in Damascus during 1947, eventually spawned two dictator families, one led by Assad in Syria and another controlled by Saddam.

Once upon a time Baath ideals were “unity, freedom and socialism.” But much like its Soviet predecessor, the party quickly devolved into little more than Stalinism. A dictator-driven centrally controlled hierarchy of elite loyalists ran everything.

One Iraqi in exile still defended this organizational structure explaining, “The [Baath Party] is accused of being a dictator party. It [had] to be. How else can you rule a country with six different ethnic and religious sects?”

However, many dictators have explained a need for totalitarianism with similar rationalizations, from Napoleon to Hitler. They too wanted a “united Europe” of desperate peoples, but under their rule.

The grand palaces and plentiful monuments of Saddam enveloped Iraq. Everywhere were statues and the likeness of the “great leader,” who became seemingly the personification of the country.

In many ways Saddam appeared to reflect the same megalomania typically associated with cult leaders.

Often when such charismatic leaders die their cult following or movement disintegrates.

Will there be an Iraq without Saddam?

Unlike North Korea, where the “Great Leader” has become a cult of religious devotion, Saddam ruled Iraq by “fear and favor,” not faith.

Though the Iraqi despot had his inner circle of sycophants and retainers who have now fled, the immediate looting that is taking place in Baghdad and Basra now that the enforcers are gone, is very telling.

Where is the “cult” of devotion now?

“The party became…[a] security system,” said one exiled Baathist.

But this is hardly a religion or cult.

The same former member outlined Baath priorities as informing on anyone “to protect the state,” anything could be done to “justify…the state” and those that deviated from “this path [would] be killed.”

This certainly describes the standards of a police state.

He concluded, “That was the end of any ideology.” And it seems the beginning of Saddam’s so-called “cult of personality.”

But after all the rhetoric, Saddam’s Iraq only turned out to be a “security system” run by thugs. And rather than “entrenched” the Iraqi people seem anxious to move on.


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