Oxford University Press, 2018

Iraq against the World: Saddam, America, and the Post-Cold War Order

The move away from post-Cold War unipolarity and the rise of revisionist states like Russia and China pose a rapidly escalating and confounding threat for the liberal international order. In Iraq against the World, Samuel Helfont offers a new narrative of Iraqi foreign policy after the 1991 Gulf War to argue that Saddam Hussein executed a political warfare campaign that facilitated this disturbance to global norms. Following the Gulf War, the UN imposed sanctions and inspections on the Iraqi state--conditions that Saddam Hussein was in no position to challenge militarily or through traditional diplomacy. Hussein did, however, wage an influence campaign designed to break the unity of the UN Security Council. The Iraqis helped to impede emerging norms of international cooperation and prodded potentially revisionist states to act on latent inclinations to undermine a liberal post-Cold War order.

Drawing on internal files from the ruling Ba'th Party, Helfont highlights previously unknown Iraqi foreign policy strategies, including the prominent use of influence operations and manipulative statesmanship. He traces Ba'thist operations around the globe--from the streets of New York and Stockholm, to the mosques of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to the halls of power in Paris and Moscow. Iraqi Ba'thists carried out espionage, planted stories in the foreign press, established overt and covert relations with various political parties, and attempted to silence anyone who disrupted their preferred political narrative. They presented themselves simply as Iraqis concerned about the suffering of their friends and families in their home country, and, consequently, were able to assemble a loose political coalition that was unknowingly being employed to meet Iraq's strategic goals. This, in turn, divided Western states and weakened norms of cooperation and consensus toward rules-based solutions to international disputes, causing significant damage to liberal internationalism and the institutions that were supposed to underpin it. A powerful reconsideration of the history of Iraqi foreign policy in the 1990s and the early 2000s, Iraq against the World offers new insights into the evolution of the post-Cold War order.

Iraq against the World:  Reviews

"Using the Iraqi archives for the first time, Helfont provides deep insights into how Saddam Hussein's Ba'thist regime sought to undermine America's post-Cold War order. Far from being a marginal actor on the global stage, Iraq's efforts inevitably placed it in the crosshairs of the George W. Bush administration and help explain why the disastrous invasion of Iraq became a White House obsession. The book successfully shifts our focus from great power politics to illustrate how relatively small countries can play important roles in world affairs. The focus on Iraq also helps explain wider transformations in international politics, and further emphasizes the central role of the Middle East over the last three decades.

Bernard Haykel, Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University

"Helfont has written the essential book about Iraqi influence operations abroad during the leadership tenure of Saddam Hussein. While most existing studies have focused on Iraq's domestic political scene, Helfont gives us a window into Iraqi activities abroad, including the conditions under which the regime succeeded or failed in achieving its foreign policy objectives." 

Lisa Blaydes, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

"Saddam Hussein's regime placed a high priority on undermining support for international sanctions on Iraq after 1991. Drawing on the vast archive of internal Ba'thist documents captured after the 2003 invasion, Samuel Helfont shows in gripping detail how the Iraqi regime sought to exploit global outrage over the humanitarian crisis. His account digs deep to document how Iraq attempted to manipulate well-intentioned civil society activists, journalists, politicians, and UN officials in a global campaign of information warfare and political manipulation." 

Marc Lynch, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

"Samuel Helfont, a brilliant Arabist with extensive experience on the ground, does indeed offer 'profound and unprecedented insights into Iraq's foreign policy.'ÂHis authoritative account reveals how the shrewd Âmaneuvers of Saddam Hussein's global Ba'thist network vexed the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations' efforts to forge a 'new world order' following the 1991 Gulf War. A chilling read." 

Walter A. McDougall, Professor of History and International Relations, University of Pennsylvania

دار ومكتبة عدنان  ٢٠٢٢

الإكراه في الدين

صدام حسين والإسلام وجذور التمردات في العراق

ترجمة: د. نور محمد الحبشي

يعتمد صموئيل هيلفونت على بحث مكثف مع أرشيف البعث للتحقيق في جذور التمرد الديني الذي اندلع في العراق بعد الغزو الذي قادته الولايات المتحدة في عام 2003. بالنظر إلى سياسات صدام حسين في التسعينات ، فسر الكثيرون دعمه للدين الذي ترعاه الدولة كدليل على تحول جذري بعيدًا عن القومية العربية نحو الإسلام السياسي. في حين لعب الإسلام دورًا أكبر في رموز النظام وتصريحات صدام في التسعينات مما كان عليه في العقود السابقة ، فإن الوثائق الداخلية للنظام تتحدى هذه النظرية.

كانت "حملة الإيمان" التي أطلقها صدام خلال هذه الفترة تتويجا لخطة لاستخدام الدين لأغراض سياسية ، بدأت عند توليه الرئاسة العراقية عام 1979. في هذا الوقت ، بدأ صدام في بناء القدرات المؤسسية للسيطرة على المؤسسات الدينية العراقية ومراقبتها. سمحت له الهياكل الاستبدادية الناتجة باستخدام الرموز والبلاغة الإسلامية في السياسة العامة ، ولكن بطريقة خاضعة للرقابة. روج صدام في نهاية المطاف لتفسير البعثيين للدين الذي أخضعه للقومية العربية ، بدلاً من تصويره على أنه هوية سياسية مستقلة أو أولية.

الهدف من هذا الفحص للتاريخ العراقي ، بخلاف تصحيح الفهم الحالي لاستخدام صدام حسين السياسي للدين طوال فترة رئاسته, هو دراسة كيفية تفكيك استخدام صدام للدين خلال الحرب الأمريكية العراقية ، وبالتالي إطلاق المتطرفين الأحرار الذين تم قمعهم في ظل نظامه. عندما دمر الغزو الذي قادته الولايات المتحدة الهياكل الاستبدادية للنظام ، قام عن غير قصد بفك القوى التي صممت هذه الهياكل لاحتواءها ، وخلق جو مليء بالدين, لكنها تفتقر إلى الشيكات التي قدمها النظام السابق. خرجت مجموعات مثل الصدريين وتنظيم القاعدة وفي نهاية المطاف الدولة الإسلامية من هذا السياق لإطلاق العنان للتمردات التي ابتليت بها العراق بعد عام 2003.

Oxford University Press, 2018

Compulsion in Religion: Saddam Hussein, Islam, and the Roots of Insurgencies in Iraq

This book draws on extensive research with Ba'thist archives to investigate the roots of the religious insurgencies that erupted in Iraq following the American-led invasion in 2003. In looking at Saddam Hussein's policies in the 1990s, many have interpreted his support for state-sponsored religion as evidence of a dramatic shift away from Arab nationalism toward political Islam. While Islam did play a greater role in the regime's symbols and Saddam's statements in the 1990s than it had in earlier decades, the regime's internal documents challenge this theory. 

The "Faith Campaign" Saddam launched during this period was the culmination of a plan to use religion for political ends, begun upon his assumption of the Iraqi presidency in 1979. At this time, Saddam began constructing the institutional capacity to control and monitor Iraqi religious institutions. The resulting authoritarian structures allowed him to employ Islamic symbols and rhetoric in public policy, but in a controlled manner. Saddam ultimately promoted a Ba'thist interpretation of religion that subordinated it to Arab nationalism, rather than depicting it as an independent or primary political identity.

The point of this examination of Iraqi history, other than to correct the current understanding of Saddam Hussein's political use of religion throughout his presidency, is to examine how Saddam's controlled use of religion was dismantled during the US-Iraq war, and consequently set free extremists that were suppressed under his regime. When the American-led invasion destroyed the regime's authoritarian structures, it unwittingly unhinged the forces that these structures were designed to contain, creating an atmosphere infused with religion, but lacking the checks provided by the former regime. Groups such as the Sadrists, al-Qaida, and eventually the Islamic State emerged out of this context to unleash the insurgencies that have plagued post-2003 Iraq.

Compulsion in Religion:  Reviews

"Samuel Helfont has provided us with groundbreaking insights into the way Saddam Hussein's Ba'th Party used Islam to control the Iraqi population during his dictatorship-and how the abrupt removal of that control influenced the insurgencies that erupted in the wake of the American invasion in 2003. Most importantly, this book illuminates why those insurgencies were so virulent, and how the wake of Saddam Hussein's use of Islamic institutions to control the Iraqi population will continue to ignite conflict in the Middle East for generations to come." 

–John Nagl, Lieutenant Colonel, USA (Retired), and author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam 

"Samuel Helfont tackles an important subject that is significant not only for its historical aspects but also for its relevance to current affairs given the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and ISIL. He has tapped the Iraqi archives, providing a real contribution to the literature on Iraq's history and issues related to current politics." 

–Joseph Sassoon, Associate Professor and al-Sabah Chair in Politics and Political Economy of the Arab World at Georgetown University. 

"[S]cholars have been hard at work refining and challenging conventional narratives regarding Ba'thist Iraq. ... Compulsion in Religion forms a significant contribution to this more general effort. â [It] will be of great interest to students of Iraqi history and modern Iraqi politics alike." 

–Cole Bunzel, Yale Law School, Orbis

"Worth reading for anyone interested in gaining a better sense of how authoritarian regimes operate, their organizational structure, decisionmaking processes, and responses to new challenges [...]  a fresh look at the recent history of Iraq and the roots of several challenges that the country is still facing."  

–Harith Hasan,  Carnegie Middle East Center, Recommended summer reading 2019.

"[A] fascinating new book."

–Gareth Smyth, The Arab Weekly

"Helfont provides a totally original look at how Saddam observed, co-opted, repressed, and then operationalized religion to secure his rule and use it as another means to control society. He counters much of the previous research that largely dismissed religion in Iraq under the Baath. The book could also lead to a whole new range of research into how the insurgency and militias emerged in post-2003 Iraq. It’s therefore essential reading for Iraq researchers."

–Joel Wing, Musing on Iraq

“In sum, this work is indispensable for scholars of religion and authoritarianism as a hypothesis-generating case study and is a welcome contribution to the field of religion and politics in particular.”

–Ann Wainscott, Miami University/US Institute of Peace, Perspectives of Politics

“Compulsion in Religion is the definitive account of the religious policies of Saddam's regime and mosque-state relations in Ba'thist Iraq. It will be of interest to scholars of Iraq, religion, comparative politics, and general readers searching for an antidote to inaccurate information on the subject.”

–Michael Brill, Princeton University, The Middle East Journal

“Helfont gives us a compelling picture of religious life under Saddam. This book can serve as an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to understand Iraq and its sectarian conflicts better. The Western media and politicians love to paint Iraq in single colors, focusing on corruption or the constant violence. Helfont gives us a nuanced and rich view of the Iraqi religious landscape.”

–Joshua Karnes, H-Net