Saadoun Hammadi’s Diaries, Volume 1: Memoirs and Reflections

17 January, 2023

As part of the Memoirs and Testimonies series, the ACRPS has published Saadoun Hammadi’s Diaries, Volume 1: Memoirs and Reflections by Saadoun Hammadi (440 pp.). The book includes the memoirs, journal entries, and documents of the late Iraqi politician Saadoun Hammadi (1930-2007), one of the most prominent leaders and state officials from 1968 to 2003. The first volume is limited to the handwritten memoirs he left to his family.

Although recent years have seen the emergence of works and memoirs by leaders of the Arab Socialist Baath Party to varying degrees, this book offers a special contribution on the life of the party. Hammadi accompanied the party and its first leaders since its inception, not only in Iraq but also in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, and remained by its side over the course of decades. Here, we are not only talking about a party leader but also a prominent intellectual. In these memoirs, we find that Hammadi focuses on political roles as well as cultural roles, granting remarkable space to the latter.

These accounts may be called “state memoirs”, as they are not merely personal testimonies but records of the Iraqi state itself, particularly because Hammadi was in charge of two of the state’s most important issues: energy and foreign relations. Thus, we believe that these memoirs and the accounts that fill them, to be published in subsequent volumes, would rival any collection of Iraqi state documents in any library or institute in the world.

The book comprises three chapters. In the first, entitled “Personal and Political Biography”, the author discusses his upbringing in Karbala and his primary education, then his association with the Baath Party during his studies at the American University of Beirut in 1949 and his political and cultural activity there, along with the accompanying outgrowth of nationalist sentiments, before his return to Iraq to take on the role of party activist and participate in constructing the party’s first structures. Next, Hammadi speaks of his studies in the United States in the mid-1950s, where he received his doctorate in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his political activities there. He then discusses his return to Iraq and involvement in official party assignments after the 1958 revolution. He became editor-in-chief of the revolutionary newspaper Al-Jumhūriyya, then Minister of Agricultural Reform in 1963, Oil Minister in 1970, Foreign Minister in 1974, then Prime Minister in 1991. The author makes sure to mention what was going on at the time within the party as well as Arab nationalist circles and movements, in their relationships among one another or with what was popular on the Arab political scene. He also provides the reader with summaries of his economic and political experience and the ideas he took away from nationalisation, agricultural reform, inclusive unity, federal union, relations with the West, and so on.

The second chapter is titled “Intellectual Biography”, in which Hammadi narrates his intellectual activity and production and his contribution to the formulation and renewal of Arab nationalist ideology, beginning with his joining the student association “Al-ʿUrwa al-Wuthqā” in the late 1940s. He mentions his experience with Dar Taliaa and the journal Dirasat Arabiya, then his establishment of the Centre for Arab Unity Studies in Beirut in the mid-1960s, ending with his activity in the Iraqi Academy of Sciences. Here, Hammadi recounts the books, studies, and articles he authored, some of which were the product of reflection on nationalist work and others the result of his organisation experience and political and government work.

The third chapter, titled “Post-Occupation Writings”, includes texts and intellectual reflections that Hammadi wrote after the American invasion in 2003. He recounts his experience in the American occupation prison, then his release and departure from Iraq to settle in Doha. This chapter offers a kind of comprehensive review of the author’s experience with party work and his state-building activity, including a discussion of issues of democracy, for which Hammadi was one of the foremost activists in the Iraqi context, as well as security, nationalism, and sectarianism. He provides the reader with some first impressions of the experience of governance in Iraq after the American invasion, when sectarianism had spread throughout society.

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