How Saddam Hussein laid the foundations for ISIS’s success

Faisal Al Yafai writes: Four days before US troops invaded Iraq for the first time, on January 13, 1991, Saddam Hussein issued a small but vital law.

It concerned the flag of Iraq, a red, white and black tricolour with three green stars. The new law changed the flag, adding the Arabic words “God is great” between the stars.

A small law issued in the midst of a gathering storm. But 25 years on from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that triggered the first Gulf War, it is apparent that this law, and particularly the political philosophy behind it, began a process that created the conditions for ISIL’s success.

The road map that leads from the centralised Iraqi state of the 1990s to the disintegrating Iraq of today, starts in the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein’s regime began to stutter.

The astonishing development of the 1970s began to slow under pressure from Saddam’s ill-conceived war against Iran.

Saddam was particularly concerned about religious challenges to his rule during this period. Aside from the war against Iran, launched at least in part because of the fear of a new revolutionary Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood was also gaining support in Iraq, as it was in other Arab countries.

Saddam’s response was to seek to co-opt religion for his own political purposes. By engaging with Salafism, a more austere version of Islam, Saddam believed he could find a way to control a revivalist Islam and exploit it for his own aims. [Continue reading…]

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