Why did Iran fight Saddam Hussein, yet ally with Assad?

Faisal Al-Kasim | 2016-11-30 19:17 Damascuss

Why did Iran fight Saddam Hussein, yet ally with Assad?
The Baath Party, as a pan-Arab nationalist political movement, was always viewed by Iran as a racist and fascist party. This hostile Iranian perspective of the Baath Party also included all pan-Arab ideologies, and considered them as demonic doctrines that should be discarded, avoided and even uprooted wherever they grew.

Therefore, the former Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, devoted himself to eliminating the Baath Party in Iraq, led by the late president Saddam Hussein, from the very beginning of the establishment  of his authority in Iran after returning from France. This is particularly in view of the fact that Iranian rulers view pan-Arab nationalist ideology as a big threat to Iran’s plans and policies.

In principle, Iran still views pan-Arab nationalism as a natural enemy to its Persian nationalism, because Arab nationalists had raised the slogan of Arab unity from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf.

This Arab nationalist idea would certainly pose an existential threat to Iran’s expansive policies in the region in the event it becomes a reality.

In this respect, we shouldn’t forget that nationalists’ ideologies and plans that grow in the same region are often inclined, sooner or later, to come to bloody confrontations.

However, I still don’t know how Iranian officials, who don’t stop attacking Baath Party in Iraq, can justify Iran’s strategic alliance with the Syrian Baath Party?

This complicated relationship, the alliance with the Baath Party in Syria and enmity towards the same party in Iraq, appears strange due to the fact that the two parties have the same founding father, Michel Aflaq; and because the conflict between Saddam Hussein and the Assad regime was based more on political differences rather than ideological ones. 

The Baath Party is ideologically the same whether it was in Iraq, Syria or anywhere else in the Arab World. This fact raises the question of whether this alliance between Iran and the Baath Party in Syria exposes the reality of the latter side, because if the Syrian branch of Baath Party was genuinely Baathist, as its Iraqi version was, Iran would never think of having such a strong alliance with the Assad regime. Iran would also not have built an extensive and strategic partnership that has, so far, overcome many challenges. 

It has become clear that Iran’s alliance with the Baathist regime in  Syria is strong and well-structured, evident in Iran’s intervention in support of the Assad regime, with its full power when it was about to fall after the beginning of the Syrian Revolution in 2011.

Iran doesn’t hide its important role in protecting the Assad regime. In this respect, many Iranian officials have said (on different occasions) that if Iran hadn’t supported Assad, he would have fallen a long time ago.

Other Iranian officials went even further by stating that Syria is an Iranian governorate, while Iranian media recently stated publicly that Assad is only a loyal soldier who is devoted to serve the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. 

So, what is the secret behind that paradoxical love-enmity relationship and the   Baath Party in Iraq, with the same ideology, on the other side? 

As I said before, the difference between Iran’s stance toward the Baath party in Syria and the same party in Iraq reveals that Iran hasn’t ever been cautious or fearful towards the Baathist version of the party in Syria. This is because it was possibly a fake version of the Baathist party that didn’t pose any threats to Iran’s plans.

However, according to Iraqi Baathists, the Iraqi Baath Party was the genuine and authentic version, which really believed in the true principles of Baath. It sought to unite all Arabs and establish a united Arab power that could face all expansive and imperialist powers on top of which is Iran. 

Therefore, Khomeini worked hard, since his first days in power, to eliminate the Baath Party in Iraq, and launched a long war against Saddam Hussein that ended after eight years when Khomeini was forced to stop the war and “swallow that cup of poison” after being defeated by the Baath Party in Iraq. 

Interestingly, over the eight-year-long Iraq-Iran war, the Baath Party in Syria -- supposedly the brother of the Iraqi Baath Party -- stood next to Iran against its Iraqi brother. This proves, as many critics believe, that the Baath Party in Syria wasn’t really committed to the true principles of Baathist doctrine, given that its alliance with Iran that dealt with the Iraqi Baath party in a different and hostile way.  

Some analysts believe that the main reason behind this double-standard in Iranian policy, in respect of Baath parties in Iraq and Syria, lies in the fact that Saddam Hussein was a Baathist of a Sunni background; in other words, he represented the Arab and Sunni majority in Iraq, while the Syrian Baath party was led by Assad who was a sectarian leader, despite using  much rhetoric about Arab nationalism in his discourse. 

Some other observers believe that one reason behind the Syrian Revolution is to get rid of this sectarian regime which has long oppressed the large  majority of Syrians. This, according to those analysts, explains why Iran found in Assad a natural ally against Arabs and Sunnis.

In other words, the Assad-Iranian alliance was originally based on a mutual doctrine which is centered around animosity towards Arabs and Sunni Muslims, even though the Iranian Twelver Shia sect doesn’t completely correlate with Alawites in matters of religious principles; the two sectarian regimes have some common points on top of which Iranians regard Alawites as the followers of Ali Ibin Abi Talib whom the Shia believe in as a messenger of Allah instead of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Can the Iranians, therefore, explain the reason behind their alliance with Assad’s Baath Party, while they fought a bitter war against Saddam’s version of the same doctrine? Despite this fact, they keep denying their policies are based on sectarian motives.