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Iraq, Government

limited democracy, Baath Party, socialist system, Iraqi people, Saddam Hussein

Iraq was a monarchy from 1921 to 1958, when military officers overthrew the monarchy in a bloody coup d’etat and set up what they defined as a republic. Since 1968 the government has been a dictatorship dominated by a single political party, the Baath Party. The people have little if any influence on the government. There are occasional elections to the legislature, and the president was once confirmed in 1995 in a public referendum, but none of these seemingly democratic procedures was truly democratic. In reality, the people do not elect their rulers.

Iraq is governed under a provisional constitution that was adopted in 1969 and subsequently amended. The constitution defines Iraq as “a sovereign people’s democratic republic,” dedicated to the ultimate realization of a single Arab state and to the establishment of a socialist system. The document declares Islam the state religion but guarantees freedom of religion. It defines the Iraqi people as comprising two principal nationalities, Arab and Kurdish. An amendment adopted in 1974 provides for autonomy for the Kurds in areas where they constitute a majority, but it stipulates that Iraq must remain united and undivided. The state is given a central role in “planning, directing and guiding” the economy. National resources are defined as “the property of the people.”

From 1968 to 1979, under President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, the Baath Party ruled the country with an iron fist. However, within the party there was a degree of democracy: In many cases people rose to positions of power from below in a semidemocratic way. Also, at the top, discussions were conducted in a fairly free fashion. In many cases, decisions were made through a collective consultation of party leaders and after taking a vote. This limited democracy within the party ended in 1979 when Saddam Hussein replaced al-Bakr as president. As is widely believed, he in fact forced his predecessor to resign. The new president had 55 senior party activists and army officers executed for treason. However, there was no real evidence of treason. The reason for the purge was either opposition to Hussein’s replacing al-Bakr or a dispute over the way in which Hussein would be elected. A few more executions for disloyalty from 1982 to 1986 sent a clear message that no one could question the new president’s decisions and survive.

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