Silas Palmer Fellow Abbas Fadhil Alkateshi Explores Networks Of Patronage In Iraq

Monday, October 1, 2018
Abbas Fadhil Mahmood

The tragic story of how the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party ruled Iraq from 1963 to 2003 cannot be explained by a few words in a short essay. It is a tragedy that only Iraqis can absorb because it devastated the past, present, and future of their country, which is considered one of the world’s richest countries in terms of history, culture, and economy.  Nobody can imagine how terrible and horrible it is growing up and living under one of the most brutal dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. It was extremely difficult, during the years of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party's rule in Iraq from 1968 to 2003, to trust people around you­–friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, teachers, and others. As an eyewitness who spent more than twenty-five years under Saddam’s dictatorial regime, I can tell many stories related to atrocities committed by Ba’athists. One of them that took place when I was five years olds. I lived in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Baghdad, called Ja’meila City, where Arab (Sunnis and Shias), Shia Kurds (Feylis), Turkmen, Sabean-Mandaeans as well as Christians had lived together for many years. Suddenly, after two years of the first spark of the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988), Saddam ordered the deportation of all the Shia Kurds in my neighborhood, accusing them of having Persian descents or Iranian loyalty. He also brutally executed and tortured many of them, especially the youth, in his secret police offices and party apparatus. 

One of my neighbors, a close friend to my family, came to my home late at night and talked to my father and my grandfather for about two hours. He told them that the Saddam’s secret police trucks and buses would come in morning to take his family to Iranian borders and he wanted to bid farewell to his close neighbors for the last time. He left most of his furniture at my home with the hope that the regime might change its decision and bring them back home. This story and many others just like it or worse give evidence of the atrocities and crimes committed by Ba’athists. In my dissertation, I am comparing the party patronage politics in pre- and post- 2003 Iraq because I believe that most of the crimes committed by Ba’athists might not be terrible as it was without the assistance of widespread patronage networks. In the same vein, Iraq today has suffered from many foundational problems. On the top of them is the corruption, terrorism, and political instability. These problems have been compounded and exacerbated by a multi-party political regime. This regime has built a massive patron-clients networks in all government institutions and becomes completely closed-access to certain political elites. Their main goal, exactly as it was with Ba’athists, is maintaining power. I argue in my dissertation that the client-patron networks in pre- and post-2003 Iraq have been built by certain political elites who have been collectively working to distribute financial rewards to their patrons by mobilizing them based on tribal and ethno-sectarian affiliations.

This regime has built a massive patron-clients networks in all government institutions and becomes completely closed-access to certain political elites.

I came to Hoover to utilize the more than ten million documents in the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party archive collection (Hiẓb al-Ba'th al-'Arabī al-Ishtirākī Records) to examine two main themes which are tribalism as well as Saddam’s clientelistic politics. In other words, I study how the regime excessively abused state resources to create patron-client networks to reinforce Saddam’s dictatorial and repressive policies. Interestingly, after I went through hundreds of highly classified security information, I found that some of the prominent tribal leaders had played an extremely significant role in reinforcing Saddam’s “state of repression” especially after the 1991 Iraqi popular uprising. The document reveals that most of the financial rewards are distributed among different ranks of Ba’athists who are secretly or publically participated in reporting, raiding, and capturing “the traitors and reactionary enemies” on behalf of the regime security apparatus.

As a Baghdad University professor and PhD candidate at Rutgers University, I am really amazed at how large the Ba’ath party dataset is. I am sure the data that I have gathered, from the B’aath party collection, will help me to answer my research question on how the dictatorship machine excessively abused the state resources to create a patronage networks that empowered the Ba’ath Party authoritarian state. I will do my best to make sure that this visit will open up new opportunities for Iraqi graduate students at Baghdad University and other Iraqi institutions of higher education. It was a pleasure meeting with Haider Hadi and Hoover staff members. They are very helpful, kind, and nice. Last but not least, it was my great honor and pleasure to serve as a Silas Palmer Fellow and I look forward the next academic field trip to Hoover Institution.

Abbas Fadhil Mahmood

Abbas Fadhil Mahmood

Instructor of Political Science at Baghdad University/Silas Palmer Fellow

Abbas Fadhil Mahmood is professor at Baghdad University and PhD candidate at Rutgers University, exploring how the dictatorship machine excessively abused the state resources to create a patronage networks that empowered the Ba’ath Party authoritarian state.