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The Islamic Dawa Party (IDP) was formed in 1957 in the Iraqi holy City of Najaf. Its first meetings were chaired by Mohammed Salih Al-Adeeb, Sayid Murtadha Alaskary, Abdul Sahib Dukheil, Sayid Mohammed Mahdi Al-Hakim, Sayid Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim, Mohammed Sadiq Al-Qamoosee and Sayid Talib Al-Rafa’ee. Their aim was to create a party and a movement which would promote Islamic values and ethics, and which would become an instrument for political activeness. This came at a time when there was widespread ignorance about religion and wide-scale inertia in politics. Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr – who was widely recognised as a leading philosopher, theologian and political theorist – quickly emerged as the leading member. It was he who laid out the foundations for the party and its political ideology, based on Wilayat Al-Umma (Governance of the people).

The party became more active after the 14th July 1958 Coup, when general Qasim seized power in the country. His government was initially less oppressive towards political parties and such work, thereby allowing the expansion and development of the IDP. The IDP’s membership increased to thousands and its activities became widespread. Amongst other things, regular political and religious programmes, debates and open discussions and the publications of books and journals were prevalent. To Iraqis, the IDP offered an alternative vision to that offered by the government, combining universal values, an Islamic ethic and democratic practice.

After 1963, when the Baath party were unsuccessful in gaining power, Abdul-Salam Arif (President 1963-66) restricted further the freedom given to political parties. However after his death in 1966, his brother Abdul-Rahman allowed parties, including the Baath, to freely re-emerge and to slowly rebuild. During this period, the Dawa party continued its mass education programme, organising peaceful student demonstrations celebrating various religious events in the calendar. It is estimated that on average, 4000 university students took part annually in such processions. These were not merely large religious gatherings, but also an opportunity to pressure the government into granting the Iraqi people greater freedom and rights.

 

  The Confrontation
 

The Baath Party led a successful military coup on the 17th of July 1968. Nine months later, on the 4th of April 1969, the Baath Regime declared its opposition to religious practices through a declaration distributed to government employees, stating "the complete elimination of Islamic movements as they constitute the biggest hindrance to the goals of the (Baath) party."

The next few years saw the beginning of a vicious campaign of torture, confiscation and deportation of thousands of Iraqis. More than half a million Iraqis, including community leaders and university academics, were subsequently deported to Iran on the pretext that they were of Iranian origins.

On 28th September 1971 the Iraqi Security agents stormed the house of Abdul Sahib Dekhail, and arrested him. Despite being subjected to severe physical and psychological torture, he refused to disclose any information on the party that the torturers demanded. Consequently he was slowly immersed in a pool of sulphuric acid, thereby becoming the first member of the IDP to be executed by the regime. As one of the most charismatic and popular leaders within the IDP, news of his martyrdom created much shock and sadness. He remains an inspirational example to many in Iraq.

The prosecution of IDP members intensified throughout the early 1970s, where in 1974 more than 70 leading figures in the Party were rounded up and imprisoned. Of these, 5 members, including Sheikh Arif Al-Basri (head of the IDP operations in Baghdad) were sentenced in a 20-minute court session to the death penalty.

Although the executions and the aggressive intimidation by the Baathist security agents intensified, the IDP was able to continue its expansion amongst the masses through efficient organisation and by working underground. This expansion was also due to the strong support and encouragement by Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr, who, despite much intimidation and threats from the Baath regime, refused to denounce the IDP or endorse the Baathist government. 

During this era, there was a great expansion of the intellectual movement within the IDP. Repeatedly the Baathist regime believed that its aggressive and violent methods of dealing with the IDP would weaken the resolve and determination of its members. In fact, more and more Iraqis joined the IDP ranks in opposition to the government. At the same time, realising the dangers facing its senior members, the Party instructed a number of its senior members to leave Iraq, establishing offices in several countries and continuing the struggle against the Baathist dictatorship.

On 31st March 1980, the revolutionary Command Council, headed by Saddam Hussein, issued a decree condemning any Dawa member or sympathisers to death:

“In accordance with laws of section A in the 42nd paragraph of the Transitional Iraqi Constitution, the Revolutionary Command Council, in a meeting which took place on 31/3/1980, has decreed the following: 

The Court and recent investigations have shown with clear evidence that the Dawa Party is a party which is linked to foreigners and is a traitor to the country and aims of the Arab nations. In addition it aims to destroy the government and to defeat the nation and revolution of 17th June (1968). For this reason the council has decided to implement the rule of section 156 (Death penalty) as a punishment to all who subscribe to this party directly, or anyone who works towards its aims under different names or disguises.

This decree must be implemented immediately on those people who have committed the above crimes.  

Signed: Saddam Hussein, head of the Revolutionary Command Council.”


Less than two weeks after the Council issued this decree, on the 5th of April 1980, Saddam's regime arrested Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr and his sister Amina Al-Sadr, the leading female activist in the party. At the same time, and to distract the masses, the regime intensified a campaign of deportations and arbitrary detentions across Iraq.

Mohammed Baqir and Amina Al-Sadr were excessively tortured by Saddam himself, and when both refused once more to denounce the Islamic Dawa Party or encourage membership to the Baath, they were executed on the 9th of April 1980. This heinous crime was a great blow to Iraqis’ hopes of achieving freedom and democracy. Al-Sadr's execution by Saddam left a leadership vacuum. It also instigated a new policy of opposition from exile by many prominent Dawa members who would have been executed likewise had they remained in Iraq. 

  The Exile years
 

Whilst many of the Dawa Party leaders left Iraq after the execution of Al-Sadr, the systematic persecution of its members continued, with the original Revolutionary Command order increasing to three others condemning any previous members to the death penalty. Thousands were killed.

Leaving Iraq in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dawa leaders sought exile mainly in Iran and Syria, as these two countries were most sympathetic to the cause against Saddam’s regime at the time. There, they sought to regroup, organising several party conferences in which new leaders were elected, and various policy platforms put forward. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the situation changed for the better, when the United States and much of Western Europe altered its stance toward Saddam, finally recognising the suffering of the Iraqi people under his reign. Consequently, IDP members began to emigrate to these countries, citing greater freedom to work and more opportunity to strengthen their campaign against Saddam’s regime.

On 26 December 1990, Lajnat Al-Aml Al-Mushtarak (“The Committee for Collective Action”) was formed, with the IDP a major player. This was the first coalition between Iraqi opposition groups which brought together Islamist and secular parties of all the different sects and ethnic groups in Iraq. As well as the IDP, the alliance included the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution Iraq (SCIRI), Al-Kutla Al-Islamiya, The Iraqi Communist Party, Al-Itihad Al-Islami li Turkman Al-Iraq, The Baath Party-Damascus Branch, Munadthama Al-Aml and Jamaat al-Ulama. The Executive Committee was composed of five members: current Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki (representing the IDP), Bayan Jabr (representing SCIRI), Muhsin Al-Duzay’ee (representing the Kurdish Front), Mahdi Al-Obaydi (representing the Arab nationalists), and Zabeed Abawi (representing the various communist groups). The committee decided to hold a conference, placing current PM Al-Maliki in charge of it. The three-day conference, held 11-13th March 1991, proved to be an important milestone in the history of Iraqi opposition to Saddam. A thousand or so participated, including leaders of all the various opposition political parties, as well as leading Iraqi academics and poets including the grand Iraqi poet Mohammed Mahdi Al-Jawahiri. Key speeches delivered included one by former Iraqi PM Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, on behalf of the IDP, and one by current President Jalal Talabani, on behalf of the Kurdish front.

Whilst in exile the IDP worked in 1990 and 1991 on uniting Iraqi opposition to Saddam, inside of Iraq, IDP members took a leading role in inspiring anti-government protests. Reacting to a government crackdown on the protestors, these protests quickly built momentum, and developed into a wholesale uprising.  This lead to 14 Iraqi provinces (out of 18) falling in the hands of the resistance movement. In the midst of the uprising, the IDP published its political programme Barnamajuna (‘Our Programme’), which affirmed, amongst other things, the party’s commitment to a free and democratic Iraq. Barnamijuna represented an important application of Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr’s theory of Wilayat Al-Umma. It gave the revolutionaries a vision for the future of Iraq which was quickly adopted by many, and which became the inspiration for their continued resistance. Tragically, Saddam was eventually able to crush the uprising, after he was allowed to use airpower to track and destroy the uprising. Thousands of Iraqis were killed in the fighting. In its aftermath, Saddam authorised the Baath party to undertake a terrifying purge, systematically executing thousands more in a bid to force Iraqi people into submission. To this day, many mass graves are being uncovered that testify to the brutal massacres Saddam orchestrated during those years.

In 1992, the IDP participated in a provisional committee set up to prepare for the Salah Ad-Din conference (in Northern Iraq) for Iraqi opposition parties, held from the 22nd to the 27th December of that year. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari headed the IDP delegation, which also included Ali Al-Adeeb, Haider Alabadi, Sadiq Al-Rikabi and Sami Alaskary. Mr. Alaskary sat on the executive committee that was set up, which was chaired by Ahmed Al-Chalabi and Hamid Al-Bayati.

Throughout the 1990s the IDP continued working with other exiled opposition groups. For example, an anti-sectarian accord was singed with Hizb Al-Islami (The Islamic Party). Believing that sectarian tensions may emerge as a serious problem in the future of Iraq if Saddam’s regime were to collapse, owing to the Baath party’s strategy of fermenting sectarianism, both the IDP and the Islamic Party signed this accord pledging to advocate a moderate Islamic line that can unify the Shia and Sunna of Iraq. In order to aid mutual understanding, two dialogue meetings were set up in which fifteen members of each of the two parties met to discuss strategies for working together.

The IDP continued to work on more similar initiatives with the Islamic Party, as well as with all other major political parties. On the whole, it had the effect of strengthening the opposition movement to Saddam’s regime, who in turn grew more and more frightened of the IDP in particular, and Iraqi exile groups more generally. Through many conferences and joint ventures, the Party affirmed its commitment to a democratic, federal, and united model for Iraq. 

The Party lobbied the international community to try Saddam Hussein and his regime for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and called for support for the Iraqi people in their struggle against dictatorship. At the same time, Dawa strongly opposed the economic sanctions that were imposed after the second Gulf war, since thousands of Iraqis died of malnutrition and lack of medical supplies whilst Saddam continued to live lavishly, and was able to further solidify his grip on power. 

 

  Returning to the homeland
 

The fall of Saddam’s regime in April 2003 represented a fulfilment of the hopes and prayers of so many Iraqis during the dark decades of dictatorship. With the fall of the despot, many IDP members and leaders returned to their homeland, playing a leading role in the efforts to bring democracy to Iraq, working to reconcile Iraqis to the tragedies they had lived through under Saddam, and helping to initiate the process of reconstruction and rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure.

Many offices were quickly set up across Iraq. Much of the work of the local branches involved providing basic aid and support networks for the victims of Saddam’s regime and those suffering from the effect of wars and sanctions. The party’s successful work in these areas facilitated its re-establishment amongst the masses, and its rising popularity was confirmed by the many nationwide surveys and polls that were conducted across Iraq, in which the Party consistently attracted the highest percentage of support amongst the Iraqi people.

Unfortunately, the Party’s prominence and its advocacy of freedom and democracy also made it a prime target for terrorists fighting to rob Iraqis of the rights and liberties they have sacrificed so much to gain. Consequently, since the fall of the despotic regime, tens of party offices have been attacked, and more of IDP members have been killed. On 13th September 2005 IDP senior leader Shayikh Mahdi Al-Attar was kidnapped and killed. A distinguished scholar, eloquent speaker and social philanthropist, Al-Attar’s death shocked and deeply saddened many Iraqi scholars and intellectuals, as well as the thousands of ordinary people for whom Al-Attar was a role-model and an inspiration. 

After the formation of the Governing Council in July 2003, a prominent Dawa leader Dr Ibrahim Al-Jaafari became its first rotating President. On the 28th April 2005, and after a long history of struggle and sacrifice in the way of freeing the Iraqi people from dictatorship, Iraqis voted in Ibrahim Al-Jaafari as Prime Minister of the first democratically elected interim Iraqi government. 

On 20th May 2006, Nouri Al-Maliki, another senior leader in Dawa, was approved by the elected Iraqi Council of Representatives to head Iraq's first full-term national unity government.

From 19-21st April 2007, the IDP held its biannual national party conference. It was the party’s first ever conference to be held openly on Iraqi soil, a historic achievement. One important outcome of the conference was the voting of current PM Nouri Al-Maliki as the Party’s first General Secretary.

 

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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