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Iraq: National Security Concerns
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > National Security Concerns


Like most developing states, but perhaps to a greater extent because of internal schisms, Iraq was plagued with insecurity and with political instability after independence in 1932. When Britain and France redrew boundaries throughout the Middle East following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the region that eventually became Iraq (under the Sykes-Picot Agreement) included a wide variety of ethnic and religious groups with little sense of national unity. The absence of nation-building elements encouraged various sectors of Iraqi society to oppose the establishment of central authority, often for personal and ideological reasons. Consequently, clandestine activities against the state's budding political and military institutions threatened Iraq's political leaders. Insecurity arising from domestic opposition to the state was compounded by Iraq's longstanding isolation from neighboring countries because of ideological rivalries, ethnic and religious differences, and competition for influence in the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi political agenda was further burdened in the late 1970s by the newly inherited Arab leadership role that came with Egypt's isolation in the wake of the Camp David Accords and the ensuing separate Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty.

The Baath Party that ruled Iraq in early 1988 came to power in July 1968 determined to restore order to a country where political turmoil was the norm. Despite several coup attempts during the intervening twenty years, notably in 1970 and in 1973, the Baath successfully ended the political turbulence of the 1950s and the 1960s. Yet, this level of stability was achieved only through harsh methods imposed by an increasingly disciplined, if intolerant, party. Antistate conspirators, including fellow Baathists, were rushed into exile, were kept under house arrest, or were executed. Actual or alleged coup attempts were forcefully put down and were followed by systematic purges of the bureaucracy and the armed forces; moreover, the party's vigilance on internal security was supported by a thorough indoctrination program to gain and to maintain formerly uncertain loyalties, both within the armed forces and in the civilian population.

Baathist success in maintaining internal security resulted partly from its 1975 limited victory against the Kurds, maintained their political positions through repressive means and by what was justified as a defensive Iraqi war against a perceived threat. Foreign observers believed that the government remained vulnerable to challenges to its authority the lack of any legitimate means of political dissent because of and because of the reverberations of a war of attrition with mounting casualties.

Iraq had enjoyed a relatively favorable national security situation in the late 1970s, but practically all its perceived politico-military gains were lost after it attacked Iran in 1980, and in 1988 Iraq faced serious economic and military difficulties.

Data as of May 1988

Last Updated: May 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iraq was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

Iraq Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 94 of 128


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