Saddam’s Heroes: Iraqi experiences as soldiers and veterans by Don Gomez

This dissertation is submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MA Near and Middle Eastern Studies of the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London).

Word Count: 9,968


Table of Contents
Abstract Chapter I - Introduction “Carrying the Gun” Studying Iraq, war, and warriors: significance and limitations Plan of thesis Chapter II - Literature Review Anthropology of war Militarization, citizen-making, and “serious talk” Chapter III - Iraqi Soldier, Iraqi Veteran Background Building an army, building a nation War with Iran Victory, failed demobilization, and the invasion of Kuwait Becoming veterans Saddam’s Heroes Chapter IV - Conclusion Appendix A note on the interviews Bibliography 37 38 13 15 19 24 27 31 34 7 9 3 4 6 3


Abstract This research explores the Iraqi military experience before and after the Iran-Iraq War and the Invasion of Kuwait. Particular attention is paid towards state-constructed nationalism, the soldier’s experience of war, and becoming (or failing to become) veterans. Based on a reading of available material and interviews with Iraqi veterans, the research reveals a ‘war generation’ filled with anger and despair over their ‘lost youth.’ The crushing defeat of Iraq during the Gulf War, the collapse of the armed forces, and a handicapped economy provided Saddam’s regime with the political cover to ignore the needs of the war generation. Veterans’ benefits were largely nonexistent. Pride in military service disappeared and veteran communities never formed. This research suggests that the war generation continues to struggle with their memories of war and their participation in the longest war of the twentieth century.

Chapter I - Introduction “Carrying the gun” In a national radio address designed to raise public morale a few years into the Iran-Iraq War, President Saddam Hussein lauded the “heroic, modern Iraqi man” who “...proved to be loyal ... by carrying the gun in defense of Iraq...” (Workman, 1994: 150). Those who “carried the gun” were supposed to be national heroes. In his speeches, Saddam reserved special recognition for the fighting men, and the veterans. Between 1980 and 1988, Iraq engaged in near total war with Iran. Men were drafted, hurriedly trained, sent to the front, and if lucky, released back into society as veterans, many with lifelong physical or mental injuries. Whether he knew it or not, Saddam built what Faleh Jabar calls a ‘war generation’ (2004). An entire generation whose lives intertwined with a devastating eight year war with Iran, a hasty invasion of Kuwait and a crushing defeat at the hands of the US and Coalition forces.


Saddam’s nod towards those who demonstrated loyalty “by carrying the gun” confirms the unique status veterans had - or were supposed to have - as they filtered back into society. This paper explores Iraqi experiences of military service, war, and reintegration during and after the Iran-Iraq War and invasion of Kuwait. Through analysis of available texts concerning the Iraqi military experience, I attempt to tease out the soldier’s story. To augment this, I conducted interviews with Iraqi veterans over the summer of 2011.1

Studying Iraq, war, and warriors: significance and limitations Limited access to Iraq during the Saddam-era and the current security situation has made studying Iraq difficult. There is little written about the military or veterans as a community in Iraq or the Middle East outside of military studies and journalism (see Gause, 2011). As a discipline, anthropology has not approached war or warriors with the vigor of other communities. War is one of our darkest social phenomena. Academic efforts strive towards understanding causes, effects, and modes of prevention. Soldiers themselves receive less attention. Military service requires a specialized socialization that can significantly affect a person’s life long after leaving the military. Soldiers may or may not fight in war, but most will filter back into society. Military service can act as a social mobilizer by instilling values and habits that are useful in the civilian world and through creating backdoor networks for employment. Conversely, criminal activity, mental health issues, homelessness, drug and alcohol


See Appendix for information on the interviews.


abuse, and suicide often have roots in a failure to readjust to civilian life after military service (Forbes, 2011). Studying soldiers then, is important to understanding some of these issues. This study faces challenging limitations. First, time and resources makes finding Iraqi veterans difficult. The best place to conduct this research is Iraq, and the current security situation makes the long term research this topic deserves prohibitively difficult. Although the Iran-Iraq War ended over twenty years ago, the immensity of the conflict lingers, and it is only after the 2003 invasion and the death of Saddam Hussein that Iraqi veterans may begin feeling comfortable discussing their experiences. Without access to Iraqis in Iraq, what remains is the Iraqi diaspora. Although London boasts a large Iraqi expatriate community, this study requires Iraqis who served in the military during a specified time, dwindling the pool of potential interviewees. Then, the interviewee must be willing to speak about what might be a painfully traumatic experience. Second, this research relies partly on memory. Memories fade as does the ability to recall. War stories may become embellished, and the opportunity to reflect may shape the way stories are retold. New information unavailable during wartime may change the way memories are expressed to fit current realities (Swedenburg, 2003: xxvi). Post-military education may also alter memory and recall. Knowing this, complete confidence cannot be placed in memory as the lone medium for transferring physical experience to record. Finally, understanding soldiers first as members of the military and then as veterans is an underdeveloped field, even in countries where military communities receive attention from historians, journalists, and enthusiasts (the US and UK, for example). Military communities are less studied in Middle Eastern countries, especially Iraq (for the reasons stated earlier).


Anthropology has not delved deeply on the subject of war, much less the soldiers who carry it out. As such, this research at times depends on sources outside of anthropology. The difficulty in finding veterans, the inherent faults of relying on memory, and the lack of field work and theory on the subject means that attempts to understand may be fraught with missteps. The challenge, though, presents opportunities to explore new territory, and perhaps reveal new insights about military service, war, and civil-military relations.

Plan of dissertation This dissertation explores Iraqi military experiences of war and reintegration during the Iran-Iraq War era. A textual analysis of available material and interviews form the research. The first goal is deepening the understanding of "what it was like" as an Iraqi soldier, a question that can never fully be answered. The second goal is examining the intersection between society and the military, more specifically, the veterans - soldiers who have completed their service and returned home, transitioning to civilian life. Little has been written documenting the lives of Iraqi veterans and what benefits (physical and abstract) they stood to receive. Examining the Iraqi military at war and afterwards may provide clues on how societies interact with their militaries. Pulling back, this research aims at identifying possible themes that may exist across cultures. I will begin with a survey of the literature concerning the anthropology of war. Then, I will describe my research from the written material available concerning Iraqi military perspectives interwoven with anecdotes from my interviews. Finally, I will conclude with a summary of the key findings and point the way towards future research.


Chapter II - Literature Review Understanding war veterans implicitly requires an understanding of soldiers’ experiences in the military and at war. It is through national military service that the citizen is made into the soldier and then the veteran. To avoid the military aspect of the veteran is to ignore the thing that gives him agency. This research is expressed through the anthropology of war. As a field, it encompasses the range of topics related to military experience, from combat to “coming home.”

Anthropology of war In her article War: Back to the Future (1999), Anna Simons presents the state of anthropology of war. Her exhaustive essay paints a bleak picture. In her introduction she writes: "With a few notable exceptions, anthropologists have barely studied modern wars, and when modern war is treated as a subject, it is the why behind the fighting and the aftermath of it - not the how or the process - that receives the most attention” (Simons, 1999: 74). Simons suggests a general aversion exists to “studying those who wield force” and a “mistrust among anthropologists connected in any way to the military’ (1999: 74). This mistrust keeps anthropologists from studying the military unless it is to criticize it. Of particular importance is Simon’s discussion of “the absent”; the things that are missing from the field due to the weakness of the existing literature. Simons identifies the three dominant categories of military literature as “analyses of the behavior of soldiers in battle (Holmes 1985, Marshall 1961, Keegan 1984, Grossman 1995, Mansfield 1982), literary memoirs that are rife with ambivalence (see Hynes 1997; see also Gray 1970), and popular nonfiction


accounts of warrior heroes (see Hackworth 1989)” (1999: 88). Usually, these are not anthropological studies, but history, memoir, and adventure stories. Despite the narrow depth of the field there are some observations which reveal trends worth anthropological exploration. “Dehumanization” of the enemy is common. Conversely, combatants may come to respect one another over time. Simons writes “The nature of the tango is such that soldiers confined to the field of battle may come to realize they have more in common with those they oppose - space, time, profession - than with civilians who are back in "the world"” (1999: 88). This feeling of having more in common with other soldiers, even enemy soldiers, than the people back in “the world” is of particular importance in trying to understand soldiers as they leave military service and become veterans, intermingling with non-veterans. Going further, Simons discusses the difficulty in studying the military at war when there is already a weak understanding of the military as a subset of society. While wartime service can be described as a “liminal event” the same can be said for simply serving in the military, without ever experiencing war (Simons, 1999: 89). When scholars study the military, they usually do so in relation to war or conflict. But the military is rarely studied outside of conflict even though it exists without it, during peacetime. Further, even when war is present, individual soldiers may not participate as a matter of circumstance. Simons writes “Disentangling the effects of combat from the fact that soldiers are in the military while in combat is difficult” (1999: 89). Studies of the Iran-Iraq War specifically tend to address the causes, military histories that chronicle troop movements and key battles, and the role of Western influence on the conflict. W. Workman labels these studies as the “traditional science of war” (1994: 3). While this approach is important towards understanding war in an effort to prevent it, other equally important


elements of war and warfare are left out. These are, “the costs of war in terms of social gains and losses of oppressed communities, especially with respect to the effect of war upon disempowered socioeconomic classes, women, racial minorities, and homosexuals” (Workman, 1994: 16). Missing from Workman’s short list of “oppressed communities” are the veterans themselves: those who participated in war and should have been the first to gain (socially, economically, or abstractly) if any group were to gain at all (see Stern, 1995). Since veterans are made up of the general population, it is possible that Workman assumed that veterans are already accounted for in one of the listed groups. Moving inside of war and studying soldiers at war means peeling back layers. The first is the military layer; the process of militarization, military culture, and the norms within individual units. The second layer is war and how soldiers perform under war conditions. Underneath those layers are the things that are easily forgotten when studying soldiers; things like class, race, and religion.

Militarization, citizen-making, and “serious talk” Exploring the process of citizen-making through militarization in Bolivia, Lesley Gill argues that the Bolivian state “utilized compulsory military service as a tool for constructing a homogenous national community and "civilizing" the male masses” (1997: 530). The process of making soldiers served as a way of forging national identity in a society with a diverse ethnic population. Further, Gill writes that militarization in Bolivia was a highly gendered process that excluded women as well as men who were unable or unwilling to serve in the military (1997: 540).


Gill argues that becoming a soldier is important socially as a way of demonstrating manhood, but the tangible benefits are less absolute (1997: 538). Bolivian men are rewarded at the completion of military service with the “military booklet,” a certificate that proves their military service. The military booklet is essential in making key transactions with the state, such as getting a job, a passport, or a university degree (1997: 537). Avoiding service means forfeiting potential earnings and opportunities. Possession of the military booklet, however, does not guarantee future prosperity. The short duration of military service (one year) means that veterans leave service with few transferable skills. There are rarely enough jobs, and since military service is mandatory, serving does not differentiate a prospective employee from the next. The poor job prospects for returning soldiers leads many veterans to conclude that the experience was a waste of time (1997: 540). Despite the weak impact military service has on employability, it is marshaled as a device for challenging the wealthy and social elite, who often avoid military service (1997: 542). Status as a veteran is used as an equalizer. Gill writes that “military service is used as a weapon in an ongoing struggle for respect and dignity in a society that routinely denies them both” (1997: 543). It is unclear whether this results in real change or if it is simply a stratagem to reinforce equality notions within the community. Where Gill explores the process of “getting in” the military through militarization, Theresa O’Nell examines the men on the other side through her work on Vietnam veterans and the process of “coming home” (1999). O’Nell’s important contribution is her identification of “profane talk” and “serious talk” as two modes veterans use to speak about war.2


O’Nell uses the Indian terms iglata and waktoglaka for “profane talk” and “serious talk,” respectively.


“Profane talk” is the dominant mode, usually done with other veterans, and consists of jokes, cursing, and the retelling of war stories, often with the purpose of establishing dominance among other men (1999: 455). “Serious talk” usually takes place in public or ceremonial settings. It is characterized by a more thoughtful and reflective tone. O’Nell offers that veterans who only engage in “profane talk” are “confined to that generation, trapped in that time and place” (1999: 456). They are forever in Vietnam. For those who engage in “serious talk,” “war memories undergo a semiotic transformation within which they are detached from combat-based meanings of death and survival, and become reattached to the sense and flux of ongoing intergenerational and transhistorical tribal life” (O’Nell, 1999: 457). In “serious talk” the veteran is usually speaking to a non-veteran audience. Words and ideas must be reconstructed to be understood. This process of repackaging stories for general consumption forces the veteran to reflect and work through his own experiences. Like O’Nell, Eyal Ben-Ari identified “serious talk” as therapeutic. An anthropologist and reservist in the Israeli military, he wrote an essay on his experience as a soldier during the first Palestinian intifada (1989). In a section titled “At the Edge of My Society,” Ben-Ari discusses his reasons for writing the article. He writes “Telling this tale - or more precisely relating my personal story to the more distanced analysis - has provided me with a means for confronting the experience of Hebron as well as for facing some of the deeper implications of my actions and those of my friends and comrades” (1989: 384). Besides adding to the discourse, formally writing about his experience settled his own conscience. In his essay on survivors of the attack on Peal Harbor, Geoffrey White also identifies “serious talk” as a way of reconciling the past (1999). The survivors, US Navy veterans, work as


tour guides at the memorial for the attack, and are themselves living memorials. White has observed the importance of public performance of “traumatic, repressed, and hidden” memories as a means of healing for war veterans (1999: 513). Summarizing, there are some key concepts that will guide this research. Simons points out that despite the best efforts of some researchers, the anthropology of war remains an underdeveloped field (1999). Military performance, soldier memoirs, and “warrior hero” books dominate war literature. Workman adds that when war is addressed, it is usually done with the intent to prevent future wars (2004). His approach, towards a “critical science of war” argues that war should also be studied in terms of the social gains and losses of different socioeconomic communities. Gill’s work on Bolivian militarization demonstrates how making soldiers can be a way of forging national identity, especially in diverse societies (1999). Although the tangible benefits of military service in Bolivia were frequently nil, serving in the military became a way of proving one’s manhood and demonstrating self-worth in relation to the dominant social classes, who often avoid military service. Lastly, the importance of “serious talk” has been identified by numerous scholars as a means of coping and coming to terms with military service, especially in war (O’Nell, 1999; Ben-Ari, 1989; White, 1999). The process of packaging military experiences and presenting them to a public or formal audience serves a role in settling the veteran’s conscience. The seeming universality of this presents avenues for future research, as none of the authors cited delved deeply into ‘why’ the veterans needed to have their consciences settled in the first place.


III - Iraqi Soldier, Iraqi Veteran Background Although this research deals exclusively with the lives of Iraqi veterans, understanding the causes of war and the basic timeline helps situate the narrative. The Iran-Iraq War is often compared to World War I because of the shared features: trench warfare, chemical attacks, and suicidal charges. Over one million people were killed, with Iraq, the smaller of the two countries, suffering over 400,000 dead and wounded (Mylroie, 1989: 60). Prior to the war, Iraq’s oil-based economy experienced tremendous growth, with cash reserves of $35 billion (Kubba, 1993: 48). The oil boom helped develop a rapidly expanding middle class, concentrated in urban centers. The war’s thirst for men and resources, however, drained Iraqi society of both. For many Iraqis, it is the war with Iran that begins a thirty year period of decline. 1979 saw leadership changes in both Iraq and Iran. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein succeeded President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. In Iran, the Islamic Revolution swept Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi from power, ushering in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. While the change in Iraq was expected, the change in Iran came through an enforced social revolution. Khomenei sought to change the face of the Iranian nation through strict adherence to Shi’a Islam. Although both leaders blamed each other for initiating the war, it is Saddam who sent his army into Iran to seize territory in September 1980, in what he called qadisiyat Saddam Saddam’s Qadisiya.3 Several reasons have been offered to explain the Iraqi rationale for war.


Named after the battle of al-Qadisiya between the Muslim army and the Sassanids during the Islamic conquests in 638.


Hopes of preempting a Shia revolt in the Iraqi south as an extension of the Islamic Revolution,4 replacing Iran as the dominant state in the Middle East, and sensing a moment of opportunity to strike before the dust settled in the new Islamic Republic have been offered as reasons on their own or in concert for why Saddam chose to invade (Karsh, 2002: 14; Hamdani in Woods, 2009: 28). The war was characterized by static defense and little forward movement from either side (Karsh, 2002; Johnson and Pelletiere, 1990). At war’s end, the borders remained virtually unchanged. Rather than crushing Iran, the war provided Khomenei with a cause around which to rally the Iranian people in the aftermath of the revolution (Varzi, 2006; Karsh, 2002). In 1988, Iran accepted UN Resolution 598, ending the war and reestablishing the prewar borders.5 Iraq achieved a Pyrrhic victory, left with a million man army that could not easily demobilize, since the ruined economy left few jobs for returning soldiers (Karsh, 2002: 89). Unable to demobilize and stuck with a massive military, Saddam soon turned his eyes towards Kuwait. More than twenty years have passed since the end of the Iran-Iraq War and the invasion of Kuwait. Without connections or an excuse from service, an Iraqi man most likely served in the military during the war. Unless they were killed or injured, soldiers served from the beginning of the war until the end, only to be rushed into the next war with Kuwait and ultimately the United States (Mylroie, 1989: 61).


The population in southern Iraq consisted mostly of Shi’a and the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala are considered to be two of the holiest cities in Shi’a Islam.

The last year of the war saw significant Iraqi military advances against Iran, forcing Iran into accepting the resolution.


Building an army, building a nation The stories of how Iraqis became soldiers were rarely complex or heroic. “Drafted” Alwar told me as we sat one evening in a pub in London. Kareem nodded in agreement and echoed “Drafted, me too.” In my telephone interviews with Mahdi, I asked him to explain how he entered military service. He laughed at the question, suggesting there was no other way to join the armed forces. “I was drafted. There are no volunteers. You get put in the army” he said emphatically. Military service was compulsory for Iraqi men once they turned eighteen. Exceptions were made only for those attending college, who would be required to serve after completing school (Jabar, 2004: 123). During peacetime, these conscripts usually served for two or three years (Marashi, 2008: 149). For those who were of ‘fighting age’ (18-45) during the Iran-Iraq War, military service lasted until death, injury, desertion, or demobilization (Marashi, 2008: 154). Avoiding service was difficult, but could be achieved through bribes or connections, usually both. Alwar had a friend in Baghdad who avoided military service throughout the war by doing free construction work on an officer’s home. Although the military consisted mostly of conscripts, some volunteered. Volunteers were often seeking a means to pay for advanced university education (Steavenson, 2010: 46, 144). Others joined for the adventure of military service, many inspired by Iraq’s participation in the wars with Israel in 1967 and 1973 (Steavenson, 2010: 20; interviews). Until the Iran-Iraq War, the guiding doctrine of the Iraqi armed forces was based on a future liberation war with Israel to the west, not a trench war with Iran to the east (Hamdani in Woods: 2009: 3).


Unlike their enlisted counterparts, Iraqi officers were “lavished” with high pay, cars, and plots of land to ensure loyalty to the regime (Marashi, 2008: 145). When I told two visiting Iraqi scholars that I was meeting with Iraqi veterans in London, they assured me that they would be officers, as only officers would have the connections and cash required to relocate to London. Despite their assurances, the veterans I met in London were not officers, but conscripts. During my interviews, discussions of pay or reward were met with firm assertions that there were never monetary benefits to service. Exceptions were made, however, if I asked if this was the case for officers. At that, they made an exception, admitting that officers might receive benefits and rewards. Compulsory military service and career seeking officers provided Saddam and the Ba’athists with a fabric on which to weave a new national identity. Ideally, it would be an identity loyal to the Ba’ath party and Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, “efforts were undertaken through the mobilization of diverse pre-Islamic, Islamic and modern elements, all with the goal of effecting an Iraqi nationalism bringing together diverse ethnicities in the service of the state” in an effort to build the “heroic, modern ‘Iraqi man’” (Jabar, 2004: 128; Workman, 1994: 150). Arab identity was emphasized, juxtaposed with the “otherness” of the Persian. Massive murals were painted throughout Iraq depicting Saddam in modern military garb or traditional Arab dress, directing armies modern and ancient against the Persians (Baram, 1991: 78). Iraqis joked that the population was made up of 13 million Iraqis and 13 million pictures of Saddam (Karsh, 2002: 67). Early in the war, Saddam commissioned the film al-Qadisiya, a historical film about the seventh century Islamic battle between the early Muslim army and the Persians. The film,


purportedly the most expensive Arab film ever made, sought to “conjure a shared enemy and thereby create sentiments of solidarity among diverse communities” (Volk, 2010: 18). Art and literature projects were also commissioned by the state to “indoctrinate these ideas” of the new Iraqi nationalism on the public (Jabar, 2004: 128). As part of Saddam’s early effort to insulate the public from the war, only sanitized images reached the masses (Karsh, 2002: 66-8). Combat footage was rarely shown, and when Iraqi soldiers were displayed in state media, they were usually wearing clean and crisp uniforms, a far cry from the grim realities of the front (Marashi, 2008: 134). While the state media machine worked towards imprinting the new Iraqi nationalism on the public, compulsory military service allowed Saddam to take his project further through politicizing the military - Iraq’s oldest and most enduring institution.6 To do this, he linked promotions and favorable assignments to political loyalism rather than competent soldiering (Marashi, 2008: 145, Hamdani in Woods, 2009: 25). While politicization was aimed mostly at the officers, enlisted soldiers did not escape politicization attempts. A training booklet for Iraqi soldiers emphasizes their first duty as loyalty to the Ba’ath party (Marashi, 2008: 149-150). Although the politicization of the armed forces failed to instill Ba’athist loyalty among enlisted troops, the process of serving in the trenches and experiencing the shared hardships of military service forged bonds between the various ethnic and religious groups of Iraq, cementing their identity as ‘Iraqi’ (Marashi, 2008: 150-151). Saddam’s fear that the Shi’a (who made up about 85% of the armed forces) would feel kinship with Khomenei was largely imaginary, as


The Iraqi Army was established by the British in 1921.


there were no widespread defections of Shi’a troops, demonstrating that the Iraqi character of those fighting was more important than religious affinity (Workman, 1994: 155). In my interviews, relations between Sunni and Shi’a were always recalled as positive. Mahdi mentioned that there were some Shi’a who felt loyalty to Khomenei and they did not want to fight, but it did not actually prevent them from fighting. Saddam strived to appeal to Iraqi Shi’a and never cast the war as Sunni versus Shi’a. Saddam even made Imam Ali’s birthday a national holiday and named a rocket after Imam Hussein (Marashi, 2008: 151). 7 For draftees, political loyalism promised little reward. Career advancement for the officer corps, however, was tied to loyalty and closeness to the regime. The politicization of the military eroded morale among career officers who believed their loyalty was to the military, not the Ba’ath party or Saddam (Hamdani in Woods, 2009: 24). Besides requiring political loyalty, Saddam centralized military decision making. Commanders were unable to take initiative in the field, often waiting for a decision from Baghdad or from Saddam himself, who never served in the military, a fact that bothered the troops (interviews). Fearing a military coup,8 Saddam continued the process of politicization until 1986, when career officers temporarily reasserted themselves and convinced Saddam that only through rewarding competent military service could Iraq hope to have any chance of defeating Iran (Marashi, 2008: 165). Conscription and citizen-making were linked during this period. Saddam sought to solidify his power through politicizing the military, linking rewards to political loyalty for the officers. For conscripts, there was little reward for adhering to nationalist ideals (Ba’athism and supporting Saddam). Unlike in Gill’s Bolivian case (1997), where nationalism was supported by
7 8

Hussein was the grandson of Ali and was famously martyred defending Karbala in 680. Iraq’s modern political history is marked by successive military coups in 1941, 1958, 1963, and 1968.


social pressures regarding military service and perceived notions of equality with higher socioeconomic classes, it was service in war, not militarization, that resulted in the forged bonds between different ethnic and religious groups that solidified Iraqi soldiers’ identity not as Ba’athists, but as Iraqis.

War with Iran Military life is often characterized by its difficulty, especially during wartime. None of my interviews were with veterans who held roles as infantrymen during the war. Mahdi served in the Air Force and was a self-described “sissy soldier.” Kareem served in an administrative job, and was only periodically sent to the front when high casualties required shuffling troops. Alwar served in combat support, which only intermittently exposed him to frontline service. There is no singular Iraqi war experience. Still, there are themes that link the experiences of many Iraqi soldiers. When the war with Iran began, the Iraqi military was well fed and equipped. The pay and benefits were good enough, even for enlisted soldiers (interviews). Camps on the front were equipped with air conditioners, televisions, and phones so that soldiers could speak with their families back home (O’Ballance, 1988: 101, in Marashi, 2008: 240). Soldiers were allowed leave based on their rank. Some received up to one week of leave a month while others received only short furloughs of three days every ten weeks (Jabar, 2004: 130; Marashi, 2008: 165; interviews). Leave was usually suspended during heavy fighting, though this was not always the case. During the allied bombing of Iraq in January, 1991, the leave program continued for soldiers occupying Kuwait until soldiers stopped coming back


(Khaddam, 1991). Yearning for family became especially strong as soldiers grew fatalistic and believed their own deaths were imminent (Steavenson, 2010: 118; Khaddam, 1991). The inability of the Iraqis to force an Iranian surrender and Saddam’s unwillingness to penetrate deeper into Iran created the conditions for a war of attrition. Trenches and defensive positions were built along the border. An Iraqi general compared the warfare to the Somme (Hamdani in Steavenson, 2010: 64).9 As the war dragged on and the economy suffered, supplying troops with adequate food and equipment became increasingly difficult. Rations were often stolen along the supply lines by other soldiers before they reached the front, in one instance leaving a single chicken to feed a platoon on the front for two weeks (Steavenson, 2010: 56). Iranian attacks on Iraqi defensive lines were characterized by ‘human wave’ attacks where lightly armed or unarmed Iranian soldiers charged Iraqi positions. Mostly conscripts or religious volunteers, Iranian soldiers believed death on the battlefield would grant them automatic entry to heaven (Varzi, 2006). “They would charge us screaming about Najaf or Karbala” Mahdi told me in an interview. “In their hands they carried a ‘heaven key’ which is supposed to open the door to paradise. If they were killed, another soldier would take the key, promising to carry it all the way to Karbala.” The human wave attacks became the hallmark of the Iranian way of war during the conflict. Iranians in these attacks have been described by Iraqi soldiers as being like “livestock herds” (Hamdani in Woods, 2009: 39) and “roaches” (Pelilitiere and Douglas, 1990: 52 in Marashi, 2008: 139). At times, respect and admiration might be shown towards the Iranians for their courage (Hamdani in Woods, 2009: 97). In my interviews, Iranians were always


A WWI battle and one of the deadliest in human history, resulting in the deaths of over one million soldiers with very little change in captured territory.


characterized as being “crazy” or “delusional.” Alwar apologetically emphasized that he holds deep-seated hatred for Iran and Iranians, even though he believed the war was unjust. On the topic of motivation, Mahdi said “The Iranians believed in their leader [Khomenei] more than the Iraqis believed in Saddam... the religious aspect didn’t exist as strongly in the Iraqi military.” Saddam never cast the war in religious terms. Invariably, the Iraqis called their wardead martyrs, but without the intense religious implications of the Iranians. Referencing the different military experiences internal to the Iraqi armed forces, Mahdi said “The Republican Guard believed in Saddam, but not martyrs. They are fighting for their benefits and their lives. But the other side of the army [the Regular Army] they didn’t believe any of this shit because they were just trying to stay alive.” Complicating life on the front, Saddam insisted on making military decisions despite having never served. To Saddam, courage in battle was the most important attribute of the warrior, and would compensate for shortcomings in tactics, technology, or supply (Hamdani in Woods, 2009: 37). Politicized commanders committed troops to battle knowing casualties would be unnecessarily high simply to demonstrate their courage to Saddam. Success was often measured not by how many Iranian troops were killed, but by how many casualties the Iraqis took (Hamdani in Woods, 2009: 76).10 Saddam’s presence was felt by officers far from Baghdad through the use of government ‘minders.’ These Ba’ath loyalists were attached to units and worked throughout the Iraqi armed forces (Marashi, 2008: 148; Karsh, 2002: 20). Their job was to ensure, through their presence and their reports, that officers and soldiers acted in accordance with Saddam’s guidance.

The Iranians also measured success by the number of Iranians ‘martyred’ in battle. This phenomenon is not unique to the Middle East. Michael Herr writes that the US Army “practically bragged” when more Army soldiers were killed in battle than Marines during the Vietnam War (1977).


A common idiom expressed by Iraqis I interviewed insisted that the war with Iran was a two front war; Iranian guns on the front and Saddam’s guns in the rear. At times, this was meant figuratively, since life was difficult under Saddam and speaking against the regime could result in punishment. For the military, it was meant literally. “Execution teams” were sent to the front on the eve of major offensives or shortly after Iraqi defensive positions were attacked. They would setup firing positions behind the Iraqi lines, pinning Iraqi troops between them and the Iranians. Any soldier who displayed cowardice or tried to surrender or flee was gunned down (interviews). Leaders were executed on the battlefield for failure or simple mistakes beyond their control, like engine failure, for example (Jabar, 2004: 130). Commanders were also known to execute their own troops, personally or through ordering other soldiers (Steavenson, 2010: 66-7). Besides death, injury, or desertion, the only way out of the military was through capture by the Iranians. During the war, those captured were considered “the lucky ones” (Jabar, 2004: 130). Iran took an estimated 70,000 Iraqi soldiers captive during the war, the last of which were released in May 2003 (Booth, 2003; Karsh, 2002: 89). Alwar and Kareem noted that captives were considered cowards by the regime and no benefits were offered to POWs or their families. Better than being captured was being excused from military service altogether. The fear of death or injury did not always deter Iraqi conscripts from trying to desert during wartime. Self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the feet, detonating grenade fuses (small explosives) in the dominant hand, cutting off fingers and stepping on land mines were typical techniques used by Iraqi soldiers to terminate their service (interviews). A particularly gruesome technique involved injecting petrol into the arm, causing it to swell and burst (Steavenson, 2010: 47; interviews). Ideally, medical personnel would be led to believe these were accidents or combat injuries. If it


was determined that the wounds were self-inflicted, the soldier would be charged with desertion, sentenced to prison, and sometimes maimed by cutting the ear (Leland, 2010). At times, deserters might be executed. Saddam deemed desertion one of the most egregious crimes, and executed deserters had their coffins draped in a black shroud to signal his status as a traitor (Steavenson, 2010: 261). The word ‘traitor’ or ‘deserter’ might be written on the coffin. Any benefits the soldier would have been entitled to were rescinded, and in some cases property was seized from the deserter’s family to shame them (Jabar, 2004: 130). Despite the regime’s attempts at shaming deserters, Iraqi society often accepted them as heroes challenging Saddam. In a discussion about Iraqi war heroes, Kareem told me that the real heroes were not the soldiers who fought in the war but the ones who deserted or avoided service altogether. Mahdi echoed this sentiment telling me that “... no one would blame you or say ‘shame on you’ [for deserting]... Our society accepts people who get out of service.” Being deemed mentally unfit was another way of avoiding the military. Some doctors declared soldiers unfit on medical reports at great personal risk, only to have the soldier sent to the front anyway. Alwar used a non-combat injury to his head as a means of convincing army doctors that he was mentally incapable of continuing his service. He would not specify how he received the injury, only to say that it happened during the war (but not of the war) while on a short leave in 1987. His injury required the removal of a small piece of his skull from under his hairline. He has a visible dent when he pulls back his hair. Alwar conspired with his mother to make it seem like the injury affected his brain. When army officials came to visit him in his home, he began to shake and spoke incoherently. His mother assured the officers that her son


was gravely injured and could no longer be expected to serve in the military. The ploy worked and Alwar received his discharge. Life on the front became more difficult as the war dragged on. Pay and benefits disappeared. Units closer to Saddam, like the Republican Guard, received better equipment than the Regular Army, creating fissures and distrust. As introduced by Simons (1999), the Iraqis engaged in both dehumanization and admiration of the Iranians. Iraqi officers, who perhaps had a more distant view of the battlefield, admired the courage and zeal of Iranian troops charging to certain death. Conscripts, however, tend to describe the Iranians as “crazy” and liken them to “roaches” or “livestock.” The insistence of describing the conflict as a “two front war” with both Iran and Saddam conjures Swedenburg’s warning that memories are often presented to fit current political considerations (2003). Insisting on being squeezed between two enemies may be used to absolve individuals from responsibility for their actions (Steavenson, 2010). Lastly, in contrast to Gill’s work on Bolivian militarization (1997), Iraqi society often viewed deserters and those who avoided the military as the “true heroes.”

Victory, failed demobilization, and the invasion of Kuwait When Khomenei finally accepted the terms of UN 598, Iraq erupted in celebration.11 Saddam immediately declared victory despite having not accomplished any war aims (Karsh, 2002: 89). Parades and award ceremonies took place throughout the country and were broadcast on television. Streaks of orange tracer rounds cut through the sky above Baghdad for three days.12 “We won the war with Iran. We were proud,” Mahdi told me, “Even though we lost a
11 12

The resolution called for a cessation of hostilities and a return to prewar borders. Celebratory gunfire is common in Iraq, although the practice was banned under Saddam.


million people, we felt good because we won.” Mahdi paused for a moment and added reflectively “Or at least the media told us we won.” Iraqis were jubilant, but not for achieving victory. They were celebrating the end of the war. The soldiers that survived eight years of fearing imminent death were being hailed by Saddam as the “saviors of the nation” and they looked forward to returning home and leading normal lives (Jabar, 2004: 131). Once the celebrations ended, Saddam faced the dilemma of demobilizing a million man army and turning soldiers back into civilians (Marashi, 2008: 176). The Iraqi economy was ruined and could not absorb the influx of new workers. Yet, the state could not afford to maintain a large army during peacetime. Saddam also held concerns of possible revolt if he demobilized too quickly and the war veterans could not find work. Approximately 50,000 soldiers were demobilized shortly after the war’s end as an experiment, but the new veterans found few work opportunities and some took to violent behavior (Jabar, 2004: 132). ! Jabar and others contend that the inability to demobilize the war generation is what led to

Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait (2004: 132; Johnson and Pelletiere, 1990: 65). 13 After Iran, the military focused on restructuring itself and downsizing (Hamdani in Woods, 2009: 61). Low on resources, Iraqi soldiers were not “paid, fed, or even armed adequately” in the weeks and months before the invasion (Marashi, 2008: 183). The decision to invade Kuwait came as a complete surprise to many of Iraq’s military commanders, and certainly to the troops. A Special Forces paratrooper who had been imprisoned for deserting was suddenly released under a ‘general amnesty’ and then informed that he would be participating in a combat jump that same night


Saddam accused Kuwait of ‘slant drilling’ and insisted Kuwait is historically part of Iraq.


(Steavenson, 2010: 121). The paratroopers participating in the operation were not told they were invading Kuwait until after they had already jumped from airplanes and seized enemy objectives deep inside Kuwaiti territory. In a pragmatic move designed to dissuade Iran from interfering, Saddam issued a conciliatory apology to Iran over the eight year war, suggesting that it was US meddling that prolonged the conflict (Jabar, 2004: 133).14 This apology was received as an insult to the war veterans who fought Iran and the families of martyrs who died in the war. Iraqi forces quickly overwhelmed the Kuwaiti military and occupied the country. The rapid victory did little to raise the morale of the exhausted Iraqi troops, as fears of war with America loomed (Jabar, 2004: 133). As diplomatic efforts to persuade Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait stagnated and allied forces massed along the Saudi-Iraq border, a general sense of dread settled into the Iraqi units charged with the occupation. Most of the better equipped Republican Guard units were withdrawn to Baghdad to protect the regime, leaving the less-capable Regular Army and Popular Army 15 in Kuwait to repel the coming allies. Despite having withdrawn his best troops, Saddam believed that he could win in Kuwait by drawing the Americans into a costly ground war (Hamdani in Woods, 2009: 96).16 Just like the Iran conflict, Saddam considered the courage and bravery of the Iraqi soldier superior to any numerical, technological, or tactical advantages the

14 15 16

The US provided assistance to both Iraq and Iran during the war. Iraq’s civilian-volunteer paramilitary force.

Saddam believed that America did not have the stomach for a casualty-laden war, based on Vietnam and Somalia (Woods, 2009: 96).


allies might bring to bear. Demonstrating the seriousness of the coming war, he referred to the the conflict with the US as umm kul al-ma’arik, the ‘Mother of all Battles’ (Marashi, 2008: 179). The allies made quick work of the ill-equipped Iraqi forces. Saddam issued a last minute order to retreat from Kuwait as the ground war began and Iraqi forces never had a chance to organize a defense or counterattack. Entire divisions surrendered. Many soldiers simply dropped their weapons and left, as Kareem did, in the chaos of the retreat, joining the convoy of vehicles leaving Kuwait for the Iraqi border. Allied warplanes bombed and strafed the convoy on what would be called the “highway of death.” For many soldiers, this was all they could take. The army was broken and there was little for which to return home. Some joined the uprisings throughout the country as a way to “regain their honor” (Marashi, 2008: 184). Others simply returned home and tried to make sense of their lives in a faltering Iraq.

Becoming veterans The near total defeat of the Iraqi army in Kuwait and the general uprising that followed resulted in an externally forced demobilization. Many who were not killed in the Gulf War simply shed their uniforms and returned home. Soldiers who fought through Iran, Kuwait, and now the US, were left to fend for themselves. During my interviews, the issue that elicited the strongest emotions was the idea of ‘lost youth.’ Unless they were killed, injured, imprisoned, or successfully deserted, Iraqi soldiers who were of ‘fighting age’ in 1980 were likely serving in the military until the end of the war with Coalition forces in 1991. Conscription meant they were forced to squander their youth serving in


a broken military under a corrupt regime in an unjust war with little to show for it during or after their service. Despite the unpopularity of the war, the ‘war generation’ supported and were proud of the Iraqi military (Jabar, 2004: 126). Throughout the war and after, Iraqi society often gathered to express pride in the military through public displays of patriotism. In a nod towards the feeling of solidarity between the Iraqi army and society, a former Iraqi general boasted with nostalgia “We were 27 million Iraqis and 27 million soldiers!” (Steavenson, 2010: 71). Not all veterans recall that same nostalgia. When I asked Alwar about the benefits of military service, he stated bluntly “It is better to be out of the Army, or [better yet] to have never served at all.” Once, while on departing his home to return to the front, Kareem’s father poured water on the ground in front of him as a sign of respect.17 At this, Kareem exploded in anger. “I felt like spitting in his face!” Kareem exclaimed. Fed up with the war and the army, Kareem was disgusted by his father’s gesture. Kareem felt his father was blinded by state-inspired patriotism and did not truly understand the reality of the war. While high ranking Iraqi officers and hardline Ba’athists might express pride in their personal service to the country, enlisted Iraqi soldiers rarely share the same sentiment (interviews). Mahdi, Kareem, and Alwar all expressed the same reasons for feeling no sense of pride in their service; 1) the war with Iran was unjust, 2) the politicization of the Iraqi army degraded professionalism, and 3) Saddam took all the glory. Mahdi relayed the sentiment of Iraqi


Kareem says this is a common Iraqi ritual.


soldiers who deserted in 1991: “If we were killed, no one would support us. And if we win, Saddam will take the glory. So why are we fighting?” In a hypothetical conversation on ‘pride,’ Alwar and Kareem both agreed that if there had been some tangible benefits of military service, such as pensions or job assistance, they may feel differently about their service. Early in the war with Iran, veterans could expect to receive a small pension and the families of martyrs received substantial financial assistance and the promise of free university education for surviving children (Library of Congress, 1988). As the war progressed, benefits were significantly reduced or stopped altogether (Jabar, 2004: 130). By the end of the Iran-Iraq War, only wounded veterans could expect to receive any government compensation, and even that was limited or non-existent (interviews). Interviews with Iraqi medical personnel reveal a generation suffering from a range of untreated war-related mental health issues, including phobias, anxiety, panic, depression, restlessness, insomnia, post-traumatic stress, and suicide (Steavenson, 2010: 2-3). When I raised the issue of mental health, the topic was laughed away as a luxury. “Everyone in Iraq needs a psychiatrist, not just the veterans” Kareem said. Echoing a problem common to military communities, Alwar described the mental health stigma that exists concerning seeking treatment; “Even if someone is having problems and wants to seek help, he won’t because it is seen as weak.” Without state assistance, veterans struggled to reintegrate with society. Eager to return to normalcy, but unable to find work, many veterans vented their frustrations in the streets. Early veterans were described as “violent” and “intolerable,” often displaying a “clannish” solidarity


with other veterans when faced with civilians, police, or state authorities (Jabar, 2004: 132). Despite this, Iraqi society generally viewed the war generation with tolerance, forgiveness, and sympathy. “Everyone felt sorry for veterans because we spent all our youth time in the army and at war” Mahdi said to me on the subject of relations between veterans and Iraqi society. That initial feeling of sympathy eventually turned to apathy, as Iraq’s problems grew so widespread that few segments of society were spared. The overwhelming defeat in Kuwait, the mass desertions, and the general uprising provided Saddam and society with cover to ignore the needs of veterans. Returning veterans never bothered establishing formal or informal veteran organizations. Mahdi described the situation after the wars as “every man for himself.” Alwar and Kareem looked puzzled when I asked about Iraqi veteran organizations. “Why would we want to remember the war?” they said. The wars quickly became a topic to be ignored. The absence of veteran organizations meant veterans lacked a space in which they could discuss the war privately among themselves. Despite the war being the defining event in the lives of an entire generation, it is routinely ignored. During my discussion with Kareem on talking about the war, he angrily shouted “My wife lost three brothers in the war! How can we talk about it?” Whereas some Iraqi officers remember their military service with nostalgic pride, many veterans attempt to shed their memories through actively avoiding the experience. Participating in the war consumed their youth, which is typically characterized as “lost.” The war experience should be a “liminal” one, but taking on that identity (the veteran) is often refused (Simons, 1999). There are seemingly no efforts to reclaim the lost youth through remembrance, as no


veteran organizations, formal or informal, have been established. The absence of “serious talk,” or even “profane talk” suggests proper reintegration would be extremely challenging at best.

Saddam’s Heroes After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, General Ra’ad Hamdani worked with historians from the US Army to piece together an understanding of the Iraqi military under Saddam. On the topic of “heroes,” Hamdani passionately spoke at length about the “thousands and thousands” of heroes from the war with Iran, most who were killed in the war (Woods, 2009: 97). He concludes, saying “What is sad is that we had heroes who survived the war, but they were dismissed by Saddam because he accused them of something or another.” (Woods, 2009: 97). Saddam went to great lengths to prevent popular heroes from emerging during and after the war with Iran. Before the 1986 Ba’ath conference which saw the temporary reassertion of the Iraqi officer corps, successful commanders were often pulled from the front before they became too popular (Workman, 1994: 155; Marashi, 2008: 164). After victory was declared in 1988, Saddam and his generals undertook a media campaign in which success was attributed to Saddam’s “military genius” (Marashi, 2008: 173). When I asked Mahdi if there were any heroes from the war, he replied:
Saddam and his generals. [Izzat] Al-Durri. 18 His [Saddam’s] brother-inlaw. They were on TV, they got medals and trophies. They said thanks for the soldiers, thanks for the martyrs. Uday and Qusay got 20 medals. Al-Durri got 12 or 15. And the Republican Guard got some medals.

To Mahdi, the lavish televised ceremonies seemed to be the reason for the war in the first place, with the soldiers and martyrs, those who fought the war, a mere afterthought.


A prominent Iraqi commander.


During the war and long after it, soldiers who became well known and popular began to die in mysterious accidents (Marashi, 2008: 175). General Kamel Sachet, a Special Forces soldier who was widely respected throughout the Iraqi army as a popular hero was executed by Saddam, ten years after the Iran-Iraq War, under the cover of the US bombing of Iraq known as ‘Desert Fox’ (Steavenson, 2010: 261). Seemingly, the only heroes were dead martyrs. Saddam had a number of memorials constructed during and after the war to cement the victory in sculpture and memorialize the war dead. The ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ was built in 1982, the first ever such memorial to be built while the conflict was still ongoing (Inglis, 1993: 22). The memorial is described as “‘a titled Behemoth, which looks like a flying saucer made from reinforced concrete and frozen in midflight’; it ‘represents a traditional shield ... dropping from the dying grasp of the archetypal Iraqi warrior’” (Inglis, 1993: 28). On those same grounds stands perhaps the most well-known monument in Iraq, the famous ‘Swords of Qadisiya’ or ‘Victory Arch.’ Construction began in 1986, two years before victory was declared, at a time when victory seemed highly improbable (al-Khalil, 1991: 10). The site consists of a pair of arms, fashioned after Saddam’s, holding crossed swords, with a long parade ground between the two pairs. The monument is made of the melted weapons of Iraqi war dead. At the base of each arm lay piles of Iranian helmets, said to be captured during the war. A less well known monument was constructed near Basra, in southern Iraq and the site of some of the most intense fighting during the war. One hundred and one statues align the waterfront, each modeled after a fallen Iraqi soldier, with the exception of one, which is modeled after Saddam. The statues face the water and each has an outstretched arm pointing towards Iran,


indicating that Iran started the war. Kareem joked that Iraqis refer to this memorial as “ass street,” because while the fingers point towards Iran, the backsides of the statues face Iraq. Alwar and Kareem described an attempt by the regime to make December 1 an Iraqi ‘Remembrance Day,’ in which Iraqi society would commemorate the war dead. As they remember it, the day was marked by politicians wearing pins or patches in the shape of the Iraqi Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, similar to the British poppy worn in November. Politicians appeared on television wearing the pins, but the general public did not participate. The idea never caught on and eventually fizzled out. After the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam sought to cement himself as the “military genius” that delivered victory to the people. Celebrations, parades, and award ceremonies lauding Saddam and his inner circle as heroes poisoned the concept of heroism for the war generation. Saddam actively sought to stomp out emerging heroes, even long after the end of the war. The construction of memorials, mostly with the intent of praising Saddam or blaming Iran for the war, did little to enhance the status of Iraqi veterans in the eyes of the public, and initiatives to enact an Iraqi ‘Remembrance Day’ failed. The glory was consumed entirely by Saddam.


IV - Conclusion When I began this research, the question I was most interested in answering was how Iraqi veterans of the Iran-Iraq War were treated compared to veterans of the invasion of Kuwait. From a non-Iraqi point of view, 1991 seemed to be the year in which Iraq began to slip. My initial hypothesis was that veterans of the invasion of Kuwait would be treated worse than veterans of the Iran-Iraq war, since, I believed, the invasion of Kuwait would be considered much more unpopular than the Iran-Iraq War. Instead, what I found is that the two wars blur together. The army never demobilized. The wars were fought by the same people. No distinctions were made by the public on which war was more just or which veterans were true heroes. Both were considered unjust and both led to needless destruction, loss of life, and loss of youth. Veterans generally received no assistance from the state regardless of which conflict they fought in. I also expected to find veterans proud of their military service, but upset that they were used in an unjust war with little to show for it. Instead, I found that these veterans do not want to be veterans at all. Compartmentalizing military service as separate from the experience of being a drafted Iraqi man, forced to fight in an unjust war under Saddam is uncommon, at least with the veterans I spoke with and according to prior research. Although I was not able to interview any Iraqi officers, I can surmise through research that they are more likely to hold nostalgic feelings about military service, despite the hardships. Indeed, one of the conclusions of this research is the existence of multiple competing armies within the Iraqi armed forces, and with that, multiple competing experiences. Members of the


Republican Guard, who were often volunteers or specially selected, likely have very different experiences and feelings towards their war service than draftees of the Regular Army. Jabar describes the Iraqi desire to “leave the national space” as one of the lasting legacies of the conflict on the war generation (2004: 135). While he means this in the literal sense of leaving Iraq for another country, it might be extended to mean leaving the ‘national space’ writ large; attempting to shed the entire episode from memory. This is accomplished through purposely not remembering. Talking about war is common for returning soldiers, and potentially essential for ensuring healthy transitions back into society (O’Nell, 1999; Ben-Ari, 1989; White, 1999). By not talking and ignoring the memories of war, Iraqi veterans may be hindering their own reintegrations. Through the interviews, two themes were expressed that deserve further consideration; the insistence that there were no veterans assistance programs or organizations, formal or informal, that existed in the aftermath of the war, and the demonization of Iranians. It seems strange and works against previous research to suggest that Iraqi veterans would completely seek to shed their identity as veterans. Shortly after the Iran-Iraq War and before the invasion of Kuwait, Jabar identified a “clannish” solidarity between veterans (2004). In that space is where one would expect to find the beginnings of veteran networks. The rush into Kuwait and the resulting fallout may have stomped out any budding veteran movement, but it is an area that demands further exploration. Additionally, where Iraqi veterans may be quick to admit that the war with Iran was unjust, they are also likely to display open animosity towards Iran and Iranians. How much of


this animosity stems from personal experience and to what extent is it the result of Saddam’s “othering” of the Iranians through mass media? Going further in understanding the experience of Iraqi veterans requires three things which were not accomplished in this research: 1) seeking out Iraqi written sources in the dominant literature as identified by Simons (i.e.; military performance, soldier memoirs, and non-fiction adventure, 2) bringing in the voices of Iraqi civilians, and 3) speaking with a wider range of veterans, representing the different services (Popular Army, Regular Army, Republican Guard, etc.) from both the officer and enlisted ranks. Research on Iraqi veterans have largely relied on interviews with former members of the Iraqi military, without speaking with Iraqi civilians on their notions of military service and returning veterans. Speaking with a large number of Iraqi civilians who lived through the Iran-Iraq War and the era after might offer new details, especially concerning civil-military relations. Finally, most research relying on interviews with Iraqi veterans has been conducted outside of Iraq with Iraqis living in the diaspora. The current security situation makes researching in Iraq difficult, but it is unknown what effect living away from Iraq might have on veterans’ memories of the conflict. Future study might benefit from sustained research conducted inside Iraq. While Iraq today continues to suffer from near daily terror attacks, hopefully, the slowly improving situation will allow for this level of research to be conducted in the near future.


Appendix A note on the interviews Before each interview, the purpose of the research was explained and an opportunity to use pseudonyms or omit any personal information was offered (and declined). The first interview was with “Mahdi” and conducted in English over the telephone. Mahdi served in the Iraqi Air Force as a radar technician between 1981 and 1983. In 1983, he was transferred under military orders to work as an oil specialist at a refinery. He worked at the refinery for the duration of the two wars and was demobilized in 1992. Two of his brothers served in the army during the wars. He currently lives outside of Iraq. “Alwar” and “Kareem” are two Iraqi veterans who live in London. Alwar is from Basra and was drafted into the Army in a combat support role in 1982. He served until 1987 when he was discharged due to an injury. Kareem is from Baghdad and was drafted into the Army in 1984. Holding a university degree at the time, Kareem was assigned an administrative job. Kareem served until 1991 when he deserted during the war with the US. The interview with Alwar and Kareem was conducted in Arabic and English, with the help of a translator.


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