Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th Party

Title:                      Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th Party

Author:                 Joseph Sassoon

Sassoon, Joseph (2011). Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th Party: Inside An Authoritarian Regime. New York : Cambridge University Press

LCCN:    2011025076

JQ1849.A98 B378 2011


  • “A unique and revealing portrait of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which was every bit as authoritarian and brutal as Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China”– Provided by publisher.
  • “The Ba’th Party came to power in 1968 and remained for thirty-five years, until the 2003 U.S. invasion. Under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, who became president of Iraq in 1979, a powerful authoritarian regime was created based on a system of violence and an extraordinary surveillance network, as well as reward schemes and incentives for supporters of the party. The true horrors of this regime have been exposed for the first time through a massive archive of government documents captured by the United States after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It is these documents that form the basis of this extraordinarily revealing book and that have been translated and analyzed by Joseph Sassoon, an Iraqi-born scholar and seasoned commentator on the Middle East. They uncover the secrets of the innermost workings of Hussein’s Revolutionary Command Council, how the party was structured, how it operated via its network of informers, and how the system of rewards functioned. Saddam Hussein’s authority was dominant. His decision was final, whether arbitrating the promotion of a junior official or the death of a rival or a member of his family. As this gripping portrayal of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq demonstrates, the regime was every bit as authoritarian and brutal as Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China and some of the regimes in the Arab world who are witnessing upheavals, are not not dissimilar from the Ba’th regime”– Provided by publisher.


  • Machine generated contents note: 1. The rise of the Ba’th party; 2. Party structure and organization; 3. The Ba’th party branches; 4. Security organizations during the Ba’th era; 5. The Ba’th and the army; 6. The personality cult of Saddam Hussein; 7. Control and resistance; 8. Bureaucracy and civil life under the Ba’th.


Date Posted:      February 29, 2016

Reviewed by Hayden Peake.[1]

The fall of Iraq’s government in April 2003 led to the “liberation” of government files by looters, who quickly “noted the addresses and began selling them door to door,” (p. 14) presumably to those who had been named in the documents. Among the most popular were those from the security services.[2]

But millions of other documents and audiotapes found their way to various organizations in the United States. They include records of “the Ba’th Party, the intelligence services—mainly the Special Security Organization (SSO)—the Ministry of lnformation, and the Revolutionary Command Council.” (p. 1) Georgetown Adjunct Professor Joseph Sassoon has used them to describe how the Iraqi government functioned before and after Saddam Hussein took power.

The first three chapters deal with Ba’th Party’s history, organization, and development into an authoritarian regime. Chapter 4 describes the four principal security organizations in detail—General Security, established in 1921; General Military Intelligence, established in 1932; the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS), an element of the Ba’th Party, established in 1963; and the Special Security Organization (SSO) established by Saddam after he became president in 1979. Sassoon explains the organizations’ overlapping, competitive functions and how each gathered information, recruited informers, and carried out surveillance of society.

The final four chapters examine the Ba’th Party and the army; Saddam’s personality cult; population control and resistance, including security aspects and political incentives; and the Ba’th Party bureaucracy and social life under Saddam.

Similarities between Saddam-era Iraq and the Soviet Union are inescapable. They include the practice of “fighting the enemy” with “surveillance, instilling fear into the population, and using torture and violence to extract information or destroy the alleged enemies of the people.” (p. 195) Sassoon makes the distinction, however, that Saddam’s government was authoritarian, not totalitarian, since Stalin’s control over the military won wars, and Saddam’s did not.

Sassoon concludes that for those “who were not direct victims of repression, daily life was generally more normal than the image we may have of such systems.” (p. 281) But for the others, “based on the regime’s own archives, we now know that a comprehensive system of repression and surveillance existed, and that many thousands paid a heavy price for refusing to bend to the will of the Ba’th Party.” (p. 284) Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th Party is a very valuable and thoroughly documented contribution to the literature.

[1] Hayden Peake is a frequent reviewer of books on intelligence and this review appeared in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (19, 1, Winter/Spring, 2013, p. 121). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Di recto rate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at

[2] Stewart, Rory (2006). Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq. London: Picador [OCLC : 72140405], p. 233.

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