Home / Articles / Authoritarianism Beyond Borders: Mapping The Iraqi Ba‘th Party Outside Iraq
The Iraqi Ba‘th Party has been studied almost exclusively as a domestic actor operating inside Iraq. However, the party maintained several offices responsible for international affairs and the Ba‘th Party records at the Hoover Archives contain thousands of pages that discuss its operations outside Iraq. During research trips to the Hoover in 2015 and 2016, I have begun to map the former regime’s system for expanding the reach of the Iraqi Ba‘th Party beyond Iraqi borders. This process appears to have coincided with, and was probably driven by, the waves of Iraqi migrants who left the country during the extensive periods of violence and instability that plagued the country during the presidency of Saddam Hussein (1979-2003). In what follows, I will sketch an initial outline of the Iraqi Ba‘th Party outside of Iraq.
Ba‘thism is a pan-Arab ideology, which envisions a unified Arab nation-state comprising the entire Arab world. Thus, the Iraq-led faction of the Ba‘th Party1 maintained a National Secretariat that was responsible for the Arab world, and then various Regional Secretariats that were responsible for the existing Arab states. The headquarters of the Ba‘th Party was in Baghdad. Therefore, the Ba‘thists in Iraq maintained two party secretariats – the National Secretariat which was responsible for the entire Arab world, and the Regional Secretariat which was responsible for Iraq. Nominally, the Iraqi Regional Secretariat should have been subordinate to the National Secretariat. However, the Regional Secretariat was much more powerful and Saddam controlled both secretariats (in practice if not always officially).
Both the National and Regional Secretariats operated abroad. The National Secretariat maintained a Bureau of Arabs outside the Homeland, which dealt with all Arabs living outside the Arab World. It attempted to work with sympathetic non-Iraqi Arab populations to achieve Iraqi interests. The Regional (Iraqi) Secretariat had several offices and bureaus that dealt with foreign relations. In each Iraqi embassy, the Iraqi Regional Secretariat maintained an “Organization of the Embassy” which was run by a senior Ba‘thist official. This official was appointed by the party and reported back to Baghdad through party rather than diplomatic channels. He was generally responsible for all party matters within the country as well as for coordinating Ba‘th Party activities with the embassy. This also made him responsible for Ba‘thist attempts to control Iraqis living in the country where he was stationed. Iraqi Ba‘thists living outside of Iraq were organized into party branches that paralleled the structure of party branches in Iraq. The branches abroad were generally referred to as “The Organization of Iraqis in [country name].” The regime in Baghdad used these party organizations outside Iraq to collect politically relevant information in their respective countries, create useful contacts with local political actors and parties, conduct espionage, spread propaganda, and sometimes, to facilitate acts of sabotage and terrorism.