Although the Baath in 1988 permitted the existence of several non-Baathist political parties, it did not tolerate political opposition to its policies. An effective security police apparatus had forced underground those groups opposed to the Baath. Other opposition groups operated in exile in Europe, Iran, and Syria. These included the ICP, the KDP, the PUK, a Baath splinter that supported the Damascus-based National Command, and several Islamic parties. Although various opposition parties periodically succeeded in carrying out acts of violence against regime targets, especially in Kurdistan, for the most part their activities within Iraq did not seriously challenge the Baath regime.
The opposition to the Baath historically has been fragmented, and efforts to form alliances--such as the ICP's November 1980 initiative to create a Democratic and Patriotic Front of Kurdish and Arab secular parties--foundered over ideological divisions. Personality clashes and feuds also prevented the various Kurdish and Arab secular parties from cooperating. In addition, many of the opposition parties seemed to have a weak internal base of popular support because of the prevailing perception that they had collaborated with enemies of Iraq at a time when the country was engaged in war with Iran.
The religious opposition to the Baath was primarily concentrated among the devout Shia population. The most important opposition party was Ad Dawah al Islamiyah (the Islamic Call), popularly known as Ad Dawah, which originally had been established by Shia clergy in the early 1960s. After the Baath came to power in 1968, Ad Dawah opposed the regime's secular policies, and consequently many prominent clergy associated with the party, as well as some who had no connections to Ad Dawah, were persecuted. In 1979, apparently to contain any radicalization of the Iraqi Shia clergy like that which had occurred in Iran, the regime arrested and subsequently executed Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir as Sadr, the country's most respected Shia leader. Sadr's precise relationship to Ad Dawah was not established, but his death precipitated widespread, violent demonstrations and acts of sabotage. Ad Dawah was banned in 1980, and membership in the organization was made a capital offense. After the war with Iran had begun, Ad Dawah and other Shia political groups reorganized in exile in Europe and in Iran.
In late 1982, the Iranian authorities encouraged the Iraqi Shia parties to unite under one umbrella group known as the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI). Headquartered in Tehran, SAIRI was under the chairmanship of Muhammad Baqir al Hakim, a prominent clergyman whose father had been the leading ayatollah of Iraq in the 1960s. SAIRI's aim was to promote the cause of Islamic revolution in Iraq by overthrowing the Baathist regime. To further that objective, in 1983 SAIRI established a government-in-exile. SAIRI's activities brought harsh reprisals against members of the extended Hakim family still living in Iraq but were generally ineffective in undermining the political controls of the Baath. Another opposition element included in SAIRI was the Organization of Islamic Action, headed by Iraqi-born Muhammad Taqi al Mudarrissi.
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