At Al Jazeera, Miroslav Zafirov makes the reasonable point that ISIS exists substantially because of support lent to Sunni Islamic radicals under Saddam Hussein’s regime. (Substantially, not entirely, not mostly.)
In 1986, at a meeting with representatives of the pan-Arab national command – the supreme ideological body of the Baath Party – Saddam Hussein offered a ceasefire, or even an alliance, between the party and the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt and Sudan. In practice, for the first time in its history the militant and secular Baath party declared its readiness to cooperate with representatives of the so-called political Islam.
In the same year, the Iraqi president also defined the difference between the “democratic, national, pan-Arab state” and the “religious state” proclaimed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Following in the footsteps of the founding father of Arab nationalism and of the pan-Arab Baath party Michel Aflaq, Saddam clearly declared that he was not an atheist, but warned against any attempt to establish a religious party with an either Sunni or Shia bias. Saddam’s warning at the time was probably addressed at the Islamic Dawa party, which had a dominant role among the Shia community and was regarded as the main competitor of the Baath party.
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It was only after 1990s that Saddam decided to focus on relations with Islamic movements and publications dedicated to the topic began to appear in the media. The conditions could not have been more favourable because the war with Iran had ended and the propaganda machine was busy painting a picture of Saddam as the indisputable victor, despite the enormous war-related losses.
In 1991, Iraq launched a new campaign, which Saddam described as “the mother of all battles” against the United States and its allies. The president was yet again depicted as a hero in the confrontation between Muslims and western forces; the inscription “God is Great” was added to the Iraqi flag, and the president promised that he would free Jerusalem. An attempt was made to play down the failure of the campaign in Kuwait and the sanctions imposed by stepping up an openly pro-Islamic propaganda.
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The goal was to gain control over religious sentiment among the Iraqi population, which was barely coping with the consequences of the two wars and the stringent sanctions. Last but not least, an attempt was made to reinvent and soften the image of the Baghdad regime as one that is pro-Islamic and, therefore, in conflict with the “forces of Islam’s enemies”.