The Ba'ath Party was established in Syria in 1952. Initially, its main ideological objectives were secularism, socialism and pan-Arab unionism. The Ba'athists became extremely influential in the years following the Suez War and its influence spread from Syria to Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.
After the war Gamal Abdel Nasser was acknowledged as leader of the Arab world. Egypt now joined with Syria to form the United Arab Republic (UAR). The Ba'athists originally supported this move but they became disillusioned by Nasser's dictatorial methods and they resigned from government in December, 1959. Two years later Syria withdrew from the UAR.
In 1963 the Ba'ath Party led a successful military coup in Syria. The new government carried out a programme of large-scale nationalization. However, the government was overthrown by a military coup in 1966.
The Ba'ath Party in Iraq came to power following a military coup on 17th July 1968. This brought to power Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr. He quickly nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company and introduced wide-ranging social and economic reforms.The new government ruthlessly suppressed opposition it did agree to enter negotiations with the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). In March 1970 the government promised to grant the Kurds a degree of autonomy.
On 6th October 1973, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel. Two days later the Egyptian Army crossed the Suez Canal while Syrian troops entered the Golan Heights. Iraq joined in the Arab-Israeli War but was defeated when Israeli troops counter-attacked on 8th October. Iraq was able to hurt the Western economy when it participated in the oil boycott against Israel's supporters.
It now became clear to the Kurdish Democratic Party that Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr was not going to keep his promises about Kurdish autonomy. In the spring 1974 fighting broke out between the Kurds and the government's armed forces. In March 1975 Iran closed its border with Iraq which led to the collapse of the Kurdish military force. Kurdish villages were destroyed and their inhabitants resettled in specially constructed villages surrounded by barbed wire and fortified posts.
Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr also suppressed non-Kurds in Iraq. In July 1978 a decree was passed which made all non-Ba'thist political activity illegal and membership of any other political party punishable by death for all those who were members or former members of the armed forces.
In July 1979 Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr resigned and was replaced by Saddam Hussein. In the next few months Saddam Hussein swiftly executed his political rivals. Increasing oil revenues allowed him to increase spending on welfare schemes. A student of Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein arranged for portraits and statues to be placed all over the country. He also created the Republican Guard, an elite presidential security force.