The Sociology of the Military
The armed forces in 1988 conceivably could have been expected to reflect the varied ethnic, religious, and class components of Iraqi society, because universal male conscription has been compulsory since 1934. To a certain extent the enlisted men did reflect society, especially after seven years of war. Indeed, for the purpose of unifying the diverse minority groups in this extremely heterogeneous country, the armed forces was one of the most important institutions in Iraq. For political reasons, this unification was never fully accomplished, however. Selective recruitment policies for the Military College, for example, were instituted by the British in the 1920s to favor the Sunni Arab community, and this bias was perpetuated by the Sunni political and military elite, which has also tended to dominate the Baath party. The Shia majority was represented in the officer corps, but in a proportion far below that of their numerical presence in society.
The majority of the officers were of lower middle class urban background; they were the sons of minor government officials and small traders, for whom a career in the military promised considerable social advancement. Family ties to officers also played an important role in the recruitment of new personnel, and in the mid-1980s, Iraq's top military commanders were from the small town of Tikrit, on the Euphrates River in the heart of Iraq's Sunni Arab community.
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