|“||Unity, liberty, socialism.||„|
|~ The motto of the Ba'ath Party.|
The Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party (Arabic: حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي Ḥizb Al-Ba‘ath Al-‘Arabī Al-Ishtirākī [ˈħɪzb alˈbaʕaθ alˈʕarabiː alˈʔɪʃtɪraːkiː]) was a political party founded in Syria by Michel Aflaq, Salah al-Din al-Bitar, and associates of Zaki al-Arsuzi. The party espoused Ba'athism (from Arabic: البعث Al-Ba'ath or Ba'ath, meaning "renaissance" or "resurrection"), which is an ideology mixing Arab nationalist, pan-Arabism, Arab socialist, and anti-imperialist interests. Ba'athism calls for unification of the Arab world into a single state. Its motto, "Unity, Liberty, Socialism", refers to Arab unity, and freedom from non-Arab control and interference.
The original Ba'ath Party was split up in 1966 into the Iraqi and Syrian regional commands. The Syrian Ba'ath Party serves as the current ruling party of Syria and is lead by current President of Syria Bashar al-Assad (and was lead by Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, during his rule of the country from 1971 to 2000.) The Iraqi Ba'ath Party was in power in Iraq from 1963 (initially lead by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and later by Saddam Hussein) until being overthrown by the United States in 2003. The Iraqi Ba'ath Party continues to function; they are currently lead by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and maintain an armed wing, the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order.
The party was founded by the merger of the Arab Ba'ath Movement, led by Aflaq and al-Bitar, and the Arab Ba'ath, led by al-Arsuzi, on 7 April 1947 as the Arab Ba'ath Party. The party quickly established branches in other Arab countries, although it would only hold power in Iraq and Syria. The Arab Ba'ath Party merged with the Arab Socialist Movement, led by Akram al-Hawrani, in 1952 to form the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party. The newly formed party was a relative success, and became the second-largest party in the Syrian parliament in the 1954 election. This, coupled with the increasing strength of the Syrian Communist Party, led to the establishment of the United Arab Republic (UAR), a union of Egypt and Syria. The union would prove unsuccessful, and a Syrian coup in 1961 dissolved it.
Following the break-up of the UAR, the Ba'ath Party was reconstituted. However, during the UAR, military activists had established the Military Committee to take control of the Ba'ath Party from civilian hands. In the meantime, in Iraq, the local Ba'ath Party branch had taken power by orchestrating and leading the Ramadan Revolution, only to lose power a couple of months later. The Military Committee, with Aflaq's consent, took power in Syria in the 8th of March Revolution of 1963.
A power struggle quickly developed between the civilian faction led by Aflaq, al-Bitar, and Munif al-Razzaz and the Military Committee led by Salah Jadid and Hafez al-Assad. As relations between the two factions deteriorated, the Military Committee initiated the 1966 Syrian coup d'état, which ousted the National Command led by al-Razzaz, Aflaq, and their supporters. The 1966 coup split the Ba'ath Party between the Iraqi-dominated Ba'ath movement and the Syrian-dominated Ba'ath movement.
Fuad al-Rikabi founded the Iraqi Regional Branch in 1951 or 1952. There are those who trace the branch's founding to Abd ar Rahman ad Damin and Abd al Khaliq al Khudayri in 1947, after their return from the 1st National Congress, which was held in Syria. Another version is that the branch was established in 1948 by Rikabi and Sa'dun Hamadi, a Shia Muslim. However, Efraim Karsh and Inari Rautsi contend that the Regional Branch was established in the 1940s, but that it received official recognition as a Regional Branch of the Ba'ath Party in 1952 by the National Command. What is certain is that Rikabi was elected the Regional Branch's first Regional Secretary in 1952.
The party initially consisted of a majority of Shia Muslims, as Rikabi recruited supporters mainly from his friends and family, but slowly became Sunni dominated. The Regional Branch, and other parties of pan-Arab inclination, had difficulties in recruiting Shia members. Most Shi'ites considered pan-Arab ideology as a Sunni project, since the majority of Arabs are Sunnis.
At the time of 14 July Revolution in 1958, which overthrew the Hashemite monarchy, the Regional Branch had 300 members. The Iraqi Regional Branch supported Abd al-Karim Qasim's rule on the grounds that he would seek Iraq's entry into the United Arab Republic. Of the 16-members of Qasim's cabinet, 12 of them were Regional Branch members. After taking power, Qasim's change his position on the UAR, reverting to the old "Iraq first policy".This turn displeased the Regional Branch and other Arab nationalists groups. Because of his policy reversal, the Regional Branch gathered a group, led by Saddam Hussein, which tried but failed to assassinate Qasim.
The Regional Branch seized power in the Ramadan Revolution. The coup was led by leading Regional Branch member Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. The plotters appointed Abdul Salam Arif, a Nasserite, to the Presidency while al-Bakr was appointed the country's Prime Minister. However, real power was in the hands of Ali Salih al-Sadi, the branch's Regional Secretary. After taking power, the Regional Branch through its militia, the National Guard, initiated what Iraqi expert Con Coughlin referred to as an "orgy of violence" against communist and left-wing elements. These repressive measures coupled with factionalism within the Regional Branch led to the November 1963 Iraqi coup d'état by President Arif and his Nasserite supporters. Iraq expert Malik Mufti believes Aflaq may have supported Arif's coup because it weakened al-Sadi's position within the party and strengthened his own. The coup forced the branch to go underground. Because of the coup, several leading Ba'athist were jailed, such as al-Bakr and Saddam. Despite this, the Regional Branch elected al-Bakr as Regional Secretary in 1964.