Iraq under Saddam Hussein
It was virtually taken for granted that, when al-Bakr relinquished the presidency, Saddam Hussein would succeed him. Nevertheless, his succession was not carried out without complications. Perhaps the two most important complicating factors were Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat's decision to make peace with Israel and Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad's bid for economic and political union with Iraq.
These two events were not unrelated. Arab unity had been a long-standing goal of the Ba'th Party in both Syria and Iraq, but Assad was prompted to call for union with Iraq only after Egypt's rapprochement with Israel in 1977.
The initial negotiations were very promising. Talks in October 1978 led to the signing of a "charter for joint national action," declaring the two countries intent to establish military unity. By 1979 it was clear that the eventual aim was full political union. Al-Bakr and Assad also cooperated with other Arab leaders in taking a firm stand against Sadat. By March 1979, however, when Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel, negotiations for a Syro-Iraqi union had slowed. The main stumbling block was the question of whether the leadership of the unified state would be primarily Syrian or Iraqi. Relations between the two countries deteriorated.
On July 16, 1979, the eve of the anniversary of the revolution of 1968, al-Bakr officially announced his resignation. He was immediately succeeded by Saddam Hussein. On July 28 it was announced that a plot to overthrow the government had been uncovered. This announcement had been preceded, on July 12, by the arrest of Muhyi 'Abd al-Hussein al-Mashhadi, the secretary of the RCC. Mashhadi made a public confession, stating that he and other Ba'th leaders, including four other members of the RCC, had conspired to overthrow the regime. The Syrian government was alleged to have provided the funds for their activities. A special court was set up, and 22 conspirators were executed; a number of others were sentenced to prison terms. This development put an end to plans for union with Syria.
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