This was a propaganda technique deployed by Iran to hasten a foreign intervention against the only regional government holding back its expansionist ambitions.
Iran achieved this by allying with politically sectarian minority groups in order to hijack Iraq’s Shia community. Together, they formed lobby groups in the United States and the West to portray Saddam not only as an individualist leader which is the norm in the Middle East, but mainly as a sectarian who had to be removed. After 2003, these sectarian minority groups were handed power by the United States – and immediately they handed Iraq over to Iran.
With Iraqis in the south now protesting against both the post-2003 government and Iran, it is an ideal time to look at the high status of Shia under Saddam’s government.
The most important security position in Iraq during the Saddam era was the head of the Directorate of General Security. The DGS was headed by Nadhim Kzar then Ali Rida, both of whom were Shia, and in Kzar’s case, the first time a Shia held this position.
When Saddam pursued the pro-Iran Dawa Party, the person responsible for the investigation was Colonel Ali Al-Khaqany, a Shia from Najaf. Saddam did not pursue Dawa because they were Shia but because they were political traitors and a security threat to the country.
The Revolutionary Court, which tried treason cases, was headed by Ali Witwit and Muslim al-Jibouri, both Shia.
The most important section of the intelligence services, the Iran taskforce, was led by Ali al-Zubaidi, a Shia, both during the Iran-Iraq War and after it.
The Iraq intelligence services had three directorates, one of which was led by the Shia Major General Mohsin Ali. Sinan Abdul Habar Abu Gulal, one of the main directors of military intelligence in the 1980s and 1990s, was also Shia.
Sixty percent of the officials in the military production council were Shia, as were a majority of the country’s atomic energy scientists.
Defence Minister Saadi Tu’ma and chief-of-staff Abdulwahid Shannan were also Shia.
Talib Shugati Kulliyat al-Arkani served in important positions in the Iraqi military establishment before 2003, and still serves in the current military establishment. Ahmed Hash also served under Saddam, and is now head of Baghdad security, Bother were Shia.
Abdul Jabbar al-Asadi, a Shia, was head of the Iraqi 3rd Division and led major battles against Iran in the 1980s. He later became transport minister and assistant chief of staff of the army.
Shia in Saddam’s government sector
One of most important people in Baath-era Iraq was Saadoun Hamadi, a Shia from Kufa. He was a foreign minister and the longest-serving head of the National Assembly of Iraq (the parliament), as well as being prime minister for a period of time.
The longest serving trade minister, Ali Hassan al-Amri, was also Shia; as was Iraq’s most famous information minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf.
Sadiq al-Wash was health minister pre-2003 and Shia. Dr Mohammed Mashat, another Shia, was education minister and ambassador to London in the 1980s; he turned opposition and joined the governing council post-2003.
Dr. Hamid Juboori, who passed away in London in 2017, was minister of foreign affairs and minister of information under Saddam and was Shia.
Safe Jwad al-Haboobui was Shia and during the 1980s the minister of oil – possibly the most important economic ministry in the whole of Iraq.
Fadil al-Chalabi was Iraq’s ambassador to OPEC and Shia. He is the cousin of the infamous double agent Ahmad al-Chalabi who died in mysterious circumstances after he came on TV threatening the ruling Dawa Party with exposing a scandal they were implicated in.
Adnan al-Pachachi was sold to the public as Sunni, but was in fact Shia. He participated in the post-2003 occupation governing council, and received a gift of $10,000 two weeks before the invasion from the Iraqi ambassador to Abu Dhabi Ali Sabti al-Hadithi.
Saddam’s inner circle also had a large Shia component, such as his advisor for party affairs Mohsin Radi Salman.
The mayor of Kuwait under Iraqi control in 1990 was Aziz Salih Numan al-Khafaji, a Shia killed by the US in prison.
Most general directors in central and southern Iraq’s local governments were Shia throughout the Baath’s rule.
Even the Baath Party’s infrastructure and organization was Shia dominated, with 60 percent of its leadership being Shia.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Hamzi al-Zubaidi was also Shia and also killed by the US in prison.
Finally and symbolically, the mayor of Salahudin province – where Saddam was born – was Dhia’a Yahya al-Ali, a direct of cousin of Nouri Kamil al-Ali, now known as Nouri al-Maliki.
Outside government, the Baath newspapers were Shia run, as were national poets who wrote poems in praise of the Baath.
Christians and other minorities under Saddam
This is all before mentioning that the founder and general director of the Baath was Michel Aflaq, a Christian, and that his aide Shibli al-Aysami was Druze. Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister for the majority of his rule was the Christian Tariq Aziz; as was Ilyas Farah, the head of Pan-Arab media in the Baath Paty. The director of the Central Bank in the 1990s was Subhi Frangool, another Christian.
One of the most notable Turkmen in the Saddam era was Yalcheen Umar Adel, who was the head of the Iraqi Sixth Division and who liberated the Majnoun islands from Iran in the 1980s.
Kurds under Saddam
Within Saddam’s inner circle, his long-time bodyguard Sabah Marzi Mahmoud was a Kurd. His vice-president until the 2003 occupation was Taha Muhiudin Maarouf was also a Kurd.
Other famous Kurds include Omid Midhat Mubarak, minister of health during the harsh international sanctions during the 1990s; and Muharram al Talabani, a nationalist from communist origins. Muharram was related to Jalal Talabani, one of the well-known leaders of the Kurdish region.
He acted as an ambassador between Saddam and Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, with his duties involving arranging secret visits between the two Kurdish leaders and Baghdad until two weeks up to the fall of Baghdad, as well as arranging their monthly payoffs from the Iraqi embassy in Ankara even while they styled themselves publicly as the opposition to the Iraqi government.
A myth and only a myth
Pre-invasion Iraq was staunchly nationalist, with government positions assigned on the basis of ability and patriotism, as opposed to family connections or sectarian beliefs. Now, not only is Iraq sectarian, but also factional with career progression depending on party loyalty even within the same sect.
Due to a lack of credible opposition figures, the US headed towards London where there was an abundance of pro-Iran oppositionists who openly fought against their own country. The US embraced these actors believing it would be easier to dismantle Iraq on sectarian grounds and thus implemented Iran’s vision for them at the Hilton Edgware Road Conference of December 2002, where Zalmay Khalil Zad famously locked the meeting room door and forced the opposition groups to reconcile among each other and sign the sectarian structure of Iraq’s future political system – the same system that has since ruled Iraq and failed on every measure.
With these being the facts of Shia and minority participation in Baath-era Iraq’s politics, any repetition of the lie that Shia were oppressed more so than other sects on the basis of their religion can only be interpreted as spreading Iranian propaganda – knowingly or not.