An Islamic State (ISIS) fighter holds an ISIS flag on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq, June 23, 2014.

In his recent response to an article we wrote in Foreign Affairs, Amatzia Baram contests our claim that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein did not promote Islamism in Iraq. Baram’s criticisms are based on his book, Saddam Husayn and Islam, and subsequent analyses of the topic, which posit that the policies of Saddam’s regime eventually gave us the Islamic State (ISIS). One of Baram’s key arguments is:

Even if Helfont and Brill accurately interpreted what was said within the party itself, they misunderstood the public face of the regime’s beliefs, or what it presented as its beliefs—critical evidence supporting Saddam’s Islamization efforts between 1993 and 2003.

That point is crucial. Whatever the Baath leadership may have said internally or even publicly against Islamism, what ultimately influenced the Iraqi Sunni population the most were Saddam’s actual policies and how they were conveyed to the public.


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  • SAMUEL HELFONT holds a lectureship in the International Relations Program at the University of Pennsylvania and is a Robert A. Fox Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
  • MICHAEL BRILL is an M.A. candidate in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.
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