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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - The Personality Cult of Saddam Hussein


To understand the Baʿth Party in Iraq between 1968 and 2003 in greater depth, one has to focus on its most dominant personality, Saddam Hussein. The party devoted an enormous amount of energy and resources to building up the image of its leader, and from the mid-1980s the Baʿth's philosophy and political education came to embody a cult rather than a political ideology. Spectacular monuments to Saddam Hussein, such as the Arch of Victory, formed by two sabers anchored in large models of his hands, dotted the Baghdad cityscape and became international symbols of his regime. Given his crucial role after taking over the presidency in 1979 until he was overthrown in April 2003, one could legitimately call those twenty-four years a period of Saddamism, similar in form to Stalinism or Maoism.

Saddam Hussein: The Man and the Leader

Numerous academic biographies and analyses of Saddam Hussein's life and personality have been published, and it is not my intention to repeat those details. Rather, I intend to examine how the Baʿth system became intertwined with its leader's personality cult and how this impacted the governing of the country. How did Saddam Hussein become omnipotent and omnipresent to the extent that he, personally, could make any decision he wanted, unconstrained by any group or institution? To understand how the cult was created, it must be placed into a wider cultural, economic, and political context.

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