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BACKGROUND REPORT - April 6, 2003: Baath Party - 2003-04-07

This is a VOA Special English Background Report.

The Baath Party has had complete control over politics in Iraq since nineteen-sixty-eight. The Baath Party began in the Syrian capital of Damascus in the nineteen-forties. The word Baath appears to mean rebirth. The party developed as a movement of Arab nationalism. It also claimed to have Socialist ideas about economic policy.

The Baath Party has been present in Iraq for more than fifty-years. Current Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is said to have joined the party in nineteen-fifty-seven. But the party began to play a much larger part in the politics of Iraq in the nineteen-sixties.

In nineteen-sixty-three, Baath party members and army officers killed then-president General Abdul Karim Qasim and seized power. However, the Baath party did not take complete control of Iraqi politics at that time. The country’s military leaders during this period had the government take control of major industries.

General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr overthrew the government in nineteen-sixty-eight. At that time the Baath Party took complete control of Iraq. General al-Bakr was from Tikrit, also the hometown of Saddam Hussein

By nineteen-seventy-five, Mister Saddam was a powerful leader of the party. He negotiated an agreement with the Shah of Iran which ended Iranian support for ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq. The Kurds had been seeking greater political independence since nineteen-sixty-one. Periods of fighting between Kurds and Iraqis have continued since then.

Saddam Hussein took power in July of nineteen-seventy-nine. General al-Bakr reportedly resigned because of his health. As president, Mister Saddam became the head of the Revolutionary Command Council. This small group rules Iraq. All members of the Council are chosen from party leadership positions from around Iraq.

The United States and coalition forces soon may end the rule of the Baath party in Iraq. Yet, that will not end the party’s influence in the Middle East. President Bashar al-Asad of Syria is secretary-general of the Baath Party in his country. The Baath party is part of the National Progressive Front. The N-P-F is the ruling coalition in Syria’s legislative body, the People’s Council.