Sunday, January 17, 2016

Council on Foreign Relations: Don't Blame Saddam Hussein for ISIS, It was the US Attack on Iraq in 2003

From a remarkable essay by Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill in the Council on Foreign Affairs magazine Foreign Affairs:

The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) might be led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and may have emerged out of al Qaeda in Iraq, but the question of who exactly is responsible for the group’s rise is still debated. One increasingly popular argument places the blame on the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. As blogger Kyle W. Orton wrote recently in The New York Times, “Those who assumed leadership roles in the Islamic State’s military council had been radicalized earlier, under Mr. Hussein’s regime.” Before Orton, Liz Sly ofThe Washington Post portrayed Saddam as an Islamist, based on the revitalization of Islamic practices during his 1993 Faith Campaign, and even argued that he promoted Salafism, the rigid brand of Islam practiced by ISIS. Amatzia Baram, who wrote a book about Saddam and his relationship with Islam from 1968 to 2003, has since stated that Baghdadi “is Saddam’s creation.”
These depictions are inaccurate and dangerously misleading, as documents in the Iraqi archives and at Hoover Institution’s Ba’ath Party records make clear. Our rigorous study of those records has found no evidence that Saddam or his Baathist regime in Iraq displayed any sympathy for Islamism, Salafism, or Wahhabism. Proponents of the Islamization narrative have attempted to distinguish between the latter two terms, arguing that the regime supported Salafism but not Wahhabism. Yet the Baathist regime used these two terms synonymously and were equally antagonistic toward them. In one instance, Saddam referred to “the Wahhabi movement” in his comments on a report about a “study of the Salafi religious phenomenon.” Saddam also made clear his general aversion to any form of Islamization of his regime, particularly in a landmark speech in 1996, in which he attacked Islamists and the “two-faced” men of religion...
One of the key arguments in support of the “Saddam gave us ISIS” line is that veterans of Saddam’s military and intelligence services are nowmembers of ISIS. This should not be surprising. Since 2003, former Baathists have joined a variety of insurgent groups, not just ISIS. They have shifted their loyalties over time according to the political climate—basically to those they judged could successfully take power. Like others throughout history, Iraqis have repeatedly demonstrated a tremendous capacity for adapting to current circumstances and acquiescing to the dominant ideology. Former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, after all, was a socialist before he was a fascist, and some Nazis later became communists in East Germany or democratic capitalists in West Germany. Even Sayyid Qutb, one of the most controversial Islamic theorists of the twentieth century, continued to be influenced by his previous background in Marxist socialism....
Domestically, Saddam also opposed Islamism and those promoting any other version of Islam than his own. Indeed, we found that the Iraqi Baath Party records contain thousands of pages from the 1990s and early 2000s on the regime’s policies toward religious leaders in Iraq. The Baathists were ruthlessly consistent in their attempts to track down and “neutralize” anyone with the slightest hint of Salafist or Islamist sympathies. In fact, throughout the 1990s, the regime kept spreadsheets containing the names of every Islamic leader in every mosque. The party secretariat asked the local branches, which created these spreadsheets, to take special note of adherents to “Salafism, Wahhabism, and the Muslim Brotherhood.” Throughout the 1990s, the regime also fine-tuned the organization of its security services, creating special sections to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhabis, and various Shiite Islamists....
Depicting ISIS as a product of Saddam’s policies is not only incorrect, it also dangerously downplays the essential role that the 2003 war in Iraq had in the evolution of active militant groups within the country. The U.S.-led invasion and ensuing insurgency destroyed the Iraqi state as well as the Iraqi political system and ignited a civil war, eventually giving riseto the divisive sectarian rule and authoritarian aspirations of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. 
Read the full essay here.


  1. Who claimed saddam created ISIS? Never heard that one before.

    1. Warmongers regularly contended (and some still do) that Sadaam supported Al-Qaeda and was buddy buddy with Bin-Laden.

    2. Yeah I know they tried that in the iraq war lead up but from my experience no one believes that. Let alone that he had something to do with the ISIS mutation years after his death.