Saddam and the Palestinian cause, facts and myths

Nadum Jwad*


There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the late Iraqi president, Saddam Hussien, who was hanged in 2006 highly regarded by a wide segment of the palestinian population and enjoys tremendous popularity, more twenty years after his fall from power as results of the American invasion in 2003.

Palestinians regarded Saddam as a strong leader who championed their cause throughout his life and was a steadfast defender of their rights to his last days. In addition, he is remembered as a leader who dared to rain rockets on Israel when all other Arab leaders never had such courage

and when the intifada was ranging on in the occupied territories he was an avid supporter of it and provided generously financial support to the families of the those who were killed by the Israeli forces.

This article will attempt to explore the roots of such fondness and if Saddmam was truly a leader who served the Palestinian cause as it is widely believed or there is another side to the story as his reckless actions and endless wars caused much more damage than it actually helped.

Former Iraqi president Saddam Husien

The July 17th Coup in Iraq 

On July 17, 1968, a group of Baathist officers staged a bloodless coup in Iraq and quickly took over the presidential palace and forced the president Abdel Rahman Aref into exile.

Saddam, at least initially, was not a high ranking member of the coup plotters, and in fact the very first picture of him shows him as one the the guards of the new president Ahmad Hassnan Al-Bakr, but he quickly went up the ranks and was regarded as the strongman of the regime with the title of the vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC.)

The revolutionaries made it clear in the first builtin issued in the name of the RCC their strong

support for the palestinian cause and stated that one of the main reasons for their “revolution”, as they called it, was to reverse the humiliating defeat Arab countries suffered on the hands of the Israelis in 1967 which they partially blamed on the Iraqi government at that time and expressed their intention to establish a strong Iraqi army capable of advancing arab causes. Furthermore, the first Ba’ath party and government leadership party was dominated by either palestinian figures or strong palestinian sympathizers.

Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakir, first Iraqi president after the 1968 Baath coup

To further its intentions of pursuing a vigorous policy of armed struggle, the new government in Iraq also established what is called the Arab Liberation Front (ALF) in April 1969, as a front of the Iraqi-led faction of the Ba’ath Party, then led by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. The ALF has always followed Iraqi government policy on all matters. In line with the pan-Arab ideology of the Ba’ath Party, the ALF was initially opposed to “Palestinization” of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, preferring to argue in terms of the wider Arab world‘s war with Israel, which it regarded as under the natural leadership of Iraq.

The ALF was the main group active in Iraq’s small Palestinian population of approximately 34,000, but a very minor group in all other Palestinian communities. It has maintained a small following in the refugee camps of Lebanon, and has a minuscule presence in the Palestinian territories (Donya Al-Watan, Retrieved 20 December 2017.)

In a dramatic move, which most certainly elevated its stature in the eyes of the Palestinian, on 27 January 1969, Iraqi authorities hung 14 alleged spies (nine Jews, three Muslims and two

Christians) for Israel in a public execution in Baghdad (“This Day in Jewish History / Nine Jewish ‘spies’ are hanged in Baghdad”. Haaretz. 27 January 2014.)

It was suggested that the reason why such public hangings took place has nothing to do with the palestinian cause and more to do with the government’s weakness and instability and was in

constant fear that it would itself be the target of a coup. After the Israeli Air Force struck an Iraqi military position in northern Jordan on 4 December 1968 in retaliation for the shelling of Israeli communities in the Galilee, the Ba’athist regime began “hunting down an American-Israeli spy ring it said was trying to destabilize Iraq.” The authorities began arresting alleged conspirators

shortly thereafter, including twelve Jewish men from Baghdad and Basra (“This Day in Jewish History / Nine Jewish ‘spies’ are hanged in Baghdad”. Haaretz. 27 January 2014.) It was also

suggested that through this brutal display, the government was trying to send a message to all possible opponents jews and non jews alike and usher in its era of iron fist rule.

Public hanging in Baghdad, 1969



On March 11 1970, the government in Baghdad granted self-rule to the large Kurdish community in the north of the country, and one of the main reasons why it undertook such a bold step was to free the Iraqi army from its almost constant engagement against the Kurds to vigorously pursue the liberation of Palestian.

The new government in Baghdad obviously hit the right tune with the Palastenians through these actions. And this fondness for the palestinian cause came into picture in 1970 during the

so-called Black September crises in Jordan.

Black September

The first real test of how the new Ba’ath government will fare in favor of the Paestenians came in September of 1970 when bloody confrontation between the Palestinian fedayeen stationed in

Jordan and the government of King Hussien erupted, and it was widely assumed that the Iraqi forces stationed there will take the side of the palestinians. This was, of course, based upon the constant speeches by the Iraq leaders in which they stated their unwavering support and

willingness to militarily and warn the Jordanian of such intentions. Iraq at that time had 17.000 troops stationed at different bases in Jordan who remained there since the 1967 war.

The Jordanian capital Amman during black September, 1970

Black September, also known as the Jordanian Civil War (“Jordanian Civil War (1970–1971) |”. Archived from the original on 17 December 2020. Retrieved 7 October 2020) was a conflict fought in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan between the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF), under the leadership of King Hussein, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, primarily between 16 and 27 September 1970, with certain aspects of the conflict continuing until 17 July 1971.

Acting as a state within a state, the fedayeen disregarded local laws and regulations, and even attempted to assassinate King Hussein twice—leading to violent confrontations between them and the Jordanian Army in June 1970. Hussein wanted to oust them from the country, but hesitated to strike because he did not want his enemies to use it against him by equating Palestinian fighters with civilians. PLO actions in Jordan culminated in the Dawson’s Field

hijackings incident of 6 September, in which the PFLP hijacked three civilian aircraft and forced their landing in Zarqa, taking foreign nationals as hostages, and later blowing up the planes in

front of journalists from around the world. Hussein saw this as the last straw, and ordered the army to take action (Shlaim 2008, p. 311–340.)

The king and his advisers were highly concerned of the strong possibility of Iraqi interference to help the fedayeen. A 17,000-man 3rd Armored Division of the Iraqi Army had remained in

eastern Jordan since after the 1967 Six-Day War (Mobley, Richard (2009). Syria’s 1970 Invasion of Jordan (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 October 2012.) The Iraqi government strongly sympathized with the Palestinians as broadcasted repeatedly by Baghdad radio and television. In fact, the Iraqi minister of defense Hardan al-Tikriti went as far as saying that

Jordan will be taught a lesson if it attacks the palestinians.

Hardan al-Tikriti


Meanwhile, the Iraqi 12th Armored Brigade was stationed in the Al-Ramtha area and the Al-Naima triangle, and was connected to the east with another Iraqi brigade stationed in

Al-Mafraq. The Syrians asked the Iraqi forces for their support to control northern Jordan, but the Iraqi forces hesitated and refrained from interfering for fear of an American or international intervention that would threaten the rule of President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, and Syria began to supply the fedayeen with equipment, weapons and supplies, and to strengthen their position in

the north. And on On September 26 [one day before the end of the war], Iraq issued a statement announcing that it would help the organizations with weapons, equipment, and money, but that Iraq would not fight the battle as a substitute for them (Dr. Mohammad Al-Manaseer, Ammon

New, 01/05/2023.)

In the end the palestinian forces were completely routed by the Jordanian army under the eyes of the Iraqis who didn’t do anything to help. In fact, and according to Abu Daud, leader of the

Black September Organization, the Iraqi forces who were stationed in positions close to the fedayeen bases to provide protection against possible Israeli strikes evacuated their position

which left the Palestinians open to any strikes by the Jordanian forces. Iraqi radio and television, however, never stopped its threats to King Hussien and its allegiance to the throughout the eleven days of the conflict. Palestinians 

King Hussien and his advisors during black

September, 1970


The Iraqi failure to help the fedayeen through the Iraqi forces in Jordan was blamed entirely on Hrdan el-Tikrity. According to Abu Daud, who visited Baghdad along with Yasser Arafat

shortly after the war and met with the Iraq president Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakir and his deputy and strongman Saddam Hussien, the two informed him that Iraq’s had full intention of backing the palestinians militarily against the jordanians but it was Hardan Al-Tikriti, who gave the orders (Aljezzera, The Story of Revolution, Hanoi of the Arabs, YouTube.).

This claim is highly disputed for the following reasons;

The hostilities in Jordan lasted for more than 11 straight days (from September 16 to 27), and

was widely reported and covered by news media across the middle east and especially by Iraq. It is really hard to believe that the president and his deputy didn’t know that the minister of defense was acting alone and he is the one who ordered the Iraqi forces not to help the fedayeen.

Hardan was also known for his fiery speeches against the jordanians. In fact he went as far as saying publicly that “Jordan will be taught a lesson” if it launches any attack against the palestinians. And according to Prince Hassan Bin Talal who was the crown prince at that time

who blamed El-Tikrity during a meeting in Nairobi Kenya for such fiery and threatening speech, he responded that this was nothing but speech written for the newspapers (Aljezzera, The Story of Revolution, Hanoi of the Arabs, YouTube.) This speech, which was part of the non-stop attacks

against Jordan by Baghdad radio and television at that time, was certainly in line with the thinking of the top Iraqi leadership of Saddam and Al-Bakir.

On 15 October 1970 Hardan was dismissed from all positions, and was later assassinated on 30 March 1971, in a car belonging to the Iraqi Embassy during a medical checkup at a Kuwait hospital on direct orders from Saddam (Sada, Georges; Black, J N (2006). Saddam’s Secrets.

Integrity Media Europe. ISBN 1-59145-504-9.) The hostilities in Jordan continued intermittently until July 17, 1971 when king Hussien delivered the final blow by forcing the surrender of more than 2000 fedayeen who were trapped in a forest near Ajloun (Pollack,

Kenneth (2002). Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness 1948–1991. Lincoln: University of

Nebraska Press. p. 343. ISBN 0-8032-3733-2.) During that time, Iraq’s Saddam did not help the palestinian in any way to resist the king’s forces or help the palestinians, even though he was the undisputed strongman of Iraq and had the final say in its affairs. Which meant that not getting involved in the conflict between the king of Jordan and the fedayeen was a long-standing policy by the government in Baghdad. And it is the belief of this writer that Iraq’s decision of

non-interference in Jordan during the conflict was as a result of the fear of any American (or Israeli) interference and not a decision by Harada el-Tikriti who was undoubtedly used as

scapegoat. And as it will be seen in later events, Saddam has always blamed the failures of his external adventures on other forces.

Interestingly, and just as the the clash between the king and the fedayeen became more and more inevitable with the strong belief that Iraq will back the later, a “super star” by the name Adnan Al-Kaissie, an Iraqi wrestler who practiced his craft in the USA before he was called to Iraq and performed several matches across Iraq under the auspices and directions of his former friend at high school Saddam Hussein (The Sheik of Baghdad: Tales of Celebrity and Terror from Pro Wrestling’s General Adnan Triumph Books 2005.) Al-Kaissy became enormously popular in his home country, being gifted palaces, a fleet of Mercedes Benz cars, and money from the

government. It was widely rumored in Iraq at that time that Saddam used Al-Kaissie and his popularity divert attention from many problems he facing and one of them was reneging on his promises to the fedayeen for help should they get into a confrontation with the Jordanian government, and then quietly withdraw his forces completely from there. Other problems were to crush the communists and the nationalist opposition. Later events proved such speculation

correct as Adnan simply vanished immediately after, and he confirmed that he was used by the government of Baghdad in an interview (Elaph, 5/12/2009.)


Saddam Hussein and Adnan Al Kaissy


Saddam and Abu Nidal 

Sabri Khalil al-Banna (May 1937 – 16 August 2002), known by his nom de guerre Abu Nidal, was the founder of Fatah: The Revolutionary Council, a militant Palestinian splinter group more commonly known as the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO)(Melman, Yossi (1987) [1986]. The Master Terrorist: The True Story Behind Abu Nidal. Sidgwick & Jackson, 213.) At the height of its militancy in the 1970s and 1980s, the ANO was widely regarded as the most ruthless of the Palestinian groups (Chamberlin, Paul Thomas (2012). The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order. New York: Oxford University Press, 173.)

Abu Nidal (“father of struggle”) formed the ANO in October 1974 after a split from Yasser

Arafat‘s Fatah faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)(Seale, Patrick (1992). Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire. London: Hutchinson, 99.) Acting as a freelance contractor, Abu

Nidal is believed to have ordered attacks in 20 countries, killing over 300 and injuring over 650 (Randal, Jonathan C. (10 June 1990). “Abu Nidal Battles Dissidents”, The Washington Post.) The group’s operations included the Rome and Vienna airport attacks on 27 December 1985,

when gunmen opened fire on passengers in simultaneous shootings at El Al ticket counters, killing 20. Patrick Seale, Abu Nidal’s biographer, wrote of the shootings that their “random cruelty marked them as typical Abu Nidal operations” (Seale 1992, 243.)


Abu Nidal

Abu Nidal died after a shooting in his Baghdad apartment in August 2002. Palestinian sources believed he was killed on the orders of Saddam Hussein, while Iraqi officials insisted he had

committed suicide during an interrogation (Whitaker, Brian (22 August 2002). “Mystery of Abu Nidal’s death deepens”, The Guardian.) “He was the patriot turned psychopath”, David Hirst wrote in the Guardian on the news of his death. “He served only himself, only the warped personal drives that pushed him into hideous crime. He was the ultimate mercenary.” ( Hirst, David (20 August 2002). “Abu Nidal”, The Guardian.)

Abu Nidal had carried out the operation without the permission of Fatah ( Hirst, David (20 August 2002). “Abu Nidal”, The Guardian.) Abu Iyad (Arafat’s deputy) and Mahmoud Abbas (later President of the Palestinian Authority), flew to Iraq to reason with Abu Nidal that

hostage-taking harmed the movement. Abu Iyad told Seale that an Iraqi official at the meeting

said: “Why are you attacking Abu Nidal? The operation was ours! We asked him to mount it for us.” Abbas was furious and left the meeting with the other PLO delegates. From that point on, Seale writes, the PLO regarded Abu Nidal as under the control of the Iraqi government (Seale 1992, 92.)

After his expulsion from Fatah, the Iraqis gave Abu Nidal Fatah’s assets in Iraq, including a training camp, farm, newspaper, radio station, passports, overseas scholarships and $15 million worth of Chinese weapons. He also received Iraq’s regular aid to the PLO: around $150,000 a month and a lump sum of $3–5 million (Seale 1992, 99.) 

Abu Nidal, the war with Iran, and the shooting of the Israeli Ambassador

On 3 June 1982, ANO operative Hussein Ghassan Said shot Shlomo Argov, the Israeli

ambassador to Britain, once in the head as he left the Dorchester Hotel in London. Said was accompanied by Nawaf al-Rosan, an Iraqi intelligence officer, and Marwan al-Banna, Abu

Nidal’s cousin. Argov survived, but spent three months in a coma and the rest of his life disabled, until his death in February 2003. The PLO quickly denied responsibility for the attack.

Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s defense minister, responded three days later by invading Lebanon, where the PLO was based, a reaction that Seale argues Abu Nidal had intended: The Israeli government had been preparing to invade and Abu Nidal provided a pretext (Seale 1992, 223–224.) Der Spiegel put it to him in October 1985 that the assassination of Argov, when he knew Israel wanted to attack the PLO in Lebanon, made him appear to be working for the Israelis, in the view of Yasser Arafat (Melman 1987, 120.) In fact, there was a strong argument that shooting the Israeli ambassador was ordered by the Iraqis and it has everything to do with the quagmire with Iran that anything else.

The attack on the Israeli embassy came at a time when Iraq was having a very hard time in its

war with Iran and Saddam was desperate for any “miracle” to save his regime from that debacle. In fact, few weeks before that event suffered a humiliating defeat the battle of Khorramshahr,

also known in Iran as the liberation of Khorramshahr, was the Iranian recapture of the city of Khorramshahr on 24 May 1982, during the Iran–Iraq War. The city had been captured by the

Iraqis earlier in the war, on 26 October 1980, shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Iran (Staff Writer. “Iran celebrates the anniversary of liberating Khorramshahr”. Alalam.)

The invasion of Lebanon by Israel provided a great opportunity for Saddham to end that war. This time he called on Iran to end hostilities and to “join forces and fight the common enemy, Israel”, Iraq, apparently near defeat in its war with Iran and faced with Iranian demands for massive reparations and punishment of the ”aggressors,” volunteered to stop shooting last week if its neighbor would join it in supporting Syria against Israel. Iran found it an offer easy to refuse, even before the shaky cease-fire between Syria and Israel.

”They should have done it before the Israeli invasion,” Tehran Radio quoted military officials as saying. ”It is too late now and they have to pay for it.” And besides, Iraqi President Saddam

Hussein continued to ignore Iranian demands for his ouster as a peace condition.

This was a similar initiative Iraq took in October 1973 when the Yum Kupor war broke out when it offered Iran (at that time under the shah’s rule) a negotiated settlement of their differences peacefully. The intention at that time was to free the Iraqi army so that it could join Syria and Egypt in their war with Israel.

Regardless of whether Iraq was behind the assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador or not, the results were catastrophic for the Palestinians in Lebanon as they were forced to evacuate their bases in Lebanon and depart to Tunisia. And just as their military presence in Jordan ended in 1970, it also ended in Lebanon in 1982. Few days later, thousands of Palestinians were massacred in the undefended Sabra and Shatila camps by the Lebanese Phalngist militia with the support of the invading Israeli forces.

Whether Abu Nidal and his group was working for the Iraqis or not, he was also accused of  masterminding the elimination of some prominent palestinian figures such as Ezzeddine Kalak

Ezzeddine Kalak 

Ezzeddine Kalak was assassinated while he was in Paris on August 3, 1978, by a group affiliated with the Fatah movement / the Revolutionary Council, which was led by Sabri al-Banna (Abu

Nidal)(Al-Sayegh, Yazid (2002). Armed struggle and the search for the state. Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies. P. 618.)

Kalak worked to highlight the civilized face of the Palestinian people, so he began collecting postcards that had been sent since the beginning of the twentieth century from Palestine, bearing the name of Arab Palestine and depicting its heritage. He established a department for Palestinian cinema in the organization’s office in Paris, and attracted a group of young French filmmakers.

Said Hammami 

Saeed Hamami (1941 in Jaffa – 1978 in London) was a Palestinian activist, politician and thinker, and director of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative office in London from its

establishment at the headquarters of the Arab League in London in 1972 until his assassination in 1978. He was assassinated in his office in London on January 4, 1978, with bullets fired at him.

A young man said to be of Arab features. However, he was not arrested. Fingers of accusation were then pointed at the Abu Nidal terrorist organization (Saeed Hamami, Encyclopedia Britannica.)

On August 2, 1978, the New York Times reported that the brother of Saed Hammai stormed the Iraqi Embassy in Paris and took 8 hostages for nine hours before surrendering to the French police. As he was led out of the Embassy, an Iraqi guard tried to execute him, and the confusion resulted in killing the guard and a French policeman, triggering a huge diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Iraq was at that time an important oil supplier to France and the French have signed important export sales contracts for arms and industrial products with Iraq.

The Times explained that “in 1978 the P.L.O. has further charged that Mr. Nidal’s and the Iraqis were responsible for terrorist raids the year before against hotels in Damascus and Amman, the murder of an Egyptian editor at a conference in Cyprus and the murder of a  P.L.O. official in

The feud at that time has worsened as the Palestine Liberation Organization has drawn closer to Syria, whose relations with the Iraqis are so bad that each of the countries often refuses to attend international gatherings if it knows the other will be present.

Late last year, when the P.L.O. and several Arab nations met to form a socalled “rejectionist front” against Egypt’s peace initiative with Israel, the Iraqis declined to join because of the Syrian presence.

The Iraqis have accused the P.L.O. of being a “Syrian puppet” and assert that Mr. Arafat’s followers have tried to liquidate Iraqi‐backed Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon (The New York Times, August 2, 1978.) 

Like its embassy in Paris, it was reported that Iraqi embassies abroad, and especially in Europe, which was the usual theater for arab infighting and assassinations, were kept under high alert for a long time for fear of palestinian attacks

The bloody feud between the PLO and Iraq ended a few months later during the 1978 Arab League summit meeting held between Arab leaders between 2–5 November in Baghdad as the 9th Arab League Summit. The summit came in the aftermath of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat‘s unilateral peace treaty with Israel (“Arab League Summit Conferences, 1964–2000”. Retrieved 9 May 2016.) 

Other killings by Abu Nidal were also reported of some highly respected Palestinian figures.

Patric Seal stated that on January 4, 1991 Abu Nidal achieved a coup in his career, by

assassinating Abu al-Hol and Abu Iyad, Fatah security and intelligence leaders, in Tunis, the night before the U.S. forces entered Kuwait. The death of the two personalities was a serious blow to Arafat. He left his diplomatic responsibilities and threw it on the shoulders of Saddam Hussein, and rushed to Tunisia.

At the end, Abu Nidal died as violently as those he assassinated. On 19 August 2002, the Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam reported that Abu Nidal had died three days earlier of multiple gunshot wounds at his home in Baghdad, a house the newspaper said was owned by the

Mukhabarat, the Iraqi secret service (Colvin, Marie and Murad, Sonya (25 August 2002.

“Executed,” The Sunday Times.) Two days later, Iraq’s chief of intelligence Taher Jalil Habbush handed out photographs of Abu Nidal’s body to journalists, along with a medical report that said he had died after a bullet entered his mouth and exited through his skull. Habbush said Iraqi officials had arrived at Abu Nidal’s home to arrest him on suspicion of conspiring with foreign governments. After saying he needed a change of clothes, he went into his bedroom and shot himself in the mouth, according to Habbush. He died eight hours later in hospital (Arraf, Jane (21 August 2002). “Iraq details terror leader’s death”, CNN.)


Iraq’s chief of intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush shows reporters photographs of Abu Nidal’s body during a press conference on 21 August 2002.

Jane’s reported in 2002 that Iraqi intelligence had found classified documents in his home about a US attack on Iraq. When they raided the house, fighting broke out between Abu Nidal’s men and Iraqi intelligence. In the midst of this, Abu Nidal rushed into his bedroom and was killed; Palestinian sources told Jane’s that he had been shot several times. Jane’s suggested Saddam

Hussein had him killed because he feared Abu Nidal would act against him in the event of an

American invasion (Najib, Mohammed (23 August 2002). “Abu Nidal murder trail leads directly to Iraqi regime”, Jane’s Information Group.)

In 2008 Robert Fisk obtained a report written in September 2002, for Saddam Hussein’s

“presidency intelligence office,” by Iraq’s “Special Intelligence Unit M4”. The report said that the Iraqis had been interrogating Abu Nidal in his home as a suspected spy for Kuwait and Egypt, and indirectly for the United States, and that he had been asked by the Kuwaitis to find links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. Just before being moved to a more secure location, Abu Nidal asked to be allowed to change his clothing, went into his bedroom and shot himself, the report

said. He was buried on 29 August 2002 in al-Karakh’s Islamic cemetery in Baghdad, in a grave marked M7 (Fisk, Robert (25 October 2008). “Abu Nidal, notorious Palestinian mercenary, ‘was a US spy'”, The Independent.)

Regardless of why and who was behind his violent end, there is no doubt the demise of the Abu Nidal in Baghdad just few weeks before the American invitation was undoubtedly a positive sign for Saddam who was desperately trying to avoid a war with the USA and his presence (that of

Abu Nidal) didn’t really help matters. In addition, and by all accounts Abu Nidal had run his course and it was time for him to depart the scene.

In conclusion, Abu Nidal, this writer believes, did a tremendous damage to the Palestinian cause throughout his bloody history. No wonder many Palestenians, including many high ranking members in the PLO, thought of him as an Israeli agent.

Iran-Iraq war and the Palestinian cause

On September 22, 1980, Saddam unleashed a tremendous force to invade Iran, a country five times the size of Iraq and almost three times larger in population. The war was the climax of a vicious and relentless propaganda campaign of insults between the two neighboring countries which began immediately after the fall of the shah of Iran a year and half earlier. Saddam believed that he would score an easy victory in a short few days over a country which was

marred by a huge internal turmoil. The outcome, as it turned out to be, a colossal miscalculation on his part resulting in a bloody and ruthless war of attrition which lasted for eight years and

caused millions of deaths on both sides and a great physical damage, and no side is able to claim a decisive victory on the other.

Arabs always thought of Iraq as having a strong army which would be capable of standing to the Israelis in any possible confrontation or at least in backing the two major arabic countries, Syria and Egypt. In fact, according to all military historians, Iraq was never a force to be reckoned

with as far as the Israelis are concerned, and has a very poor history of military achievements against Israel in all the wars between the two sides. For instance, Iraq in its last major

participation in a war against Israel in the October war of 1973, and according to Kennth Pollack

Iraq/Iran war, 1980-1988

had the worst performance of the four major armies which took part in that war (Egypt, Syria,

and Jordan are the other three.) And according to Pollack, other than bravery of its soldiers and logistical capabilities, the Iraqi army failed in every category of engagement against the Israelis which made an easy prey of its enemy. For instance, in the air battles over Syria, Israel downed 26 Iraqi planes while the Iraqis were not able to down any. A similar outcome took place in 1967 in the H3 area in western Iraq, in which Israel downed 21 Iraqi planes while the Iraqis downed only three (some suggested that pilots who scored those three hits were in fact

Jordanians and not Iraqis.) This was also true in every tank engagement of the two sides as for instance what happened on the 19th of October, 1973 in the Golan Heights theater in which the Israeli mercelecilly routed most of the tanks of the Iraqi sixth armored brigade (Kenneth Pollack, Arabs at war, 2002.)

Nevertheless, the war with Iran effectively ended any possibility of dependence on the potential strength of the Iraqi army in case of a confrontation with Israel, as it weakened its military and devastated its economy . This is in addition to the fact that the atrocities and viciousness of the war generated so much hatred towards Iran, a country which could have been considered as

sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. This is hardly a plus to the Palestinian struggle as a whole.

The invasion of Kuwait, 1990 and its impact on the Palestinians

The devastating war with Iran which lasted eight years and its significant impact on the country, set the stage for Saddam for his next desperate step which he mistakenly believed will get him out of all his troubles, that is invading his small neighboring country of Kuwait which bankrolled him generously during that war. Accordingly, he sent his troops on the second of August, 1990 into that country and triggered in the process a global crisis.

It was estimated that more than 400,000 Palestinians lived in Kuwait before the Iraqi invasion, mostly carrying Jordanian citizenship and by all accounts enjoyed a good economic footprint in the gulf state.

The invasion put the PLO, who enjoyed considerable backing from both Iraq and Kuwait, in a peculiar situation (in addition to Saddam’s popularity among Palestenians in general) and was in a precarious gamble.

At the end, the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat realized that he had to support Baghdad. This came after repeated attempts to find an Arab solution to the crises which proved unsuccessful.

The PLO founder calculated that maintaining Iraq’s military power and rejecting a US military presence in the region were less costly scenarios in the long run than allowing Baghdad to annex Kuwait. During the 1980s Iraq helped supply the PLO with arms and it was Arafat’s belief at the time that a more militarized Iraq would support the struggle for Palestinian statehood.

(Aljezzara, August 22, 2009.) There is no doubt that Sadam’s popularity among the Palestinian population played a role in this decision. During the period of negotiations and threats following the invasion, Saddam focused renewed attention on the Palestinian problem by promising to

withdraw his forces from Kuwait if Israel would relinquish the occupied territories in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip. And obviously in that atmosphere of anguish and hopelessness among Palestinians this was a real shot in the arm. The allies, however, ultimately rejected any linkage between the Kuwait crisis and Palestinian issues. Saddam has also threatened to hit Israel with rockets which had a major positive reaction among Palestinians.

But according to Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi, the PLO “opposed the Iraq invasion of Kuwait but was unwilling to endorse a major United States military presence in the heart of the Arab world. …For the Palestinians, occupation and annexation of Kuwait is a great evil, but a massive American military presence in the region is an even greater evil.” (Khalidi, Rashid I. “The Palestinians and the Gulf Crisis.” Current History, vol. 90, no. 552, 1991, pp. 18–37. Accessed 28 Apr. 2022.)

Of course later events proved that Arafat, the PLO, and the Palesteniatns at large could not have been more wrong in their calculations of baking Saddam.

Basra-Baghdad Highway of death, retreating Iraqi forces

The Palestinian exodus from Kuwait took place during and after the Gulf War. During the subsequent Iraqi military occupation of the country, some 200,000 Palestinians left due to various reasons such as fear of persecution, food and medical care shortages, financial difficulties, and fear of arrest or mistreatment at roadblocks by Iraqi troops (Schulz, Helena Lindholm (2005-07-27). The Palestinian Diaspora. p. 67. ISBN 9781134496686.) During

autumn 1990 more than half of the Palestinians in Kuwait fled as a result of fear or persecution. After Operation Desert Storm, which saw Iraqi forces defeated and pushed out of Kuwait by a United States-led coalition, another 200,000 Palestinians fled Kuwait, partly due to economic burdens, regulations on residence and fear of abuse by Kuwaiti security forces (Mattar, Philip (2005). Encyclopedia of the Palestinians. pp. 289–290. ISBN 9780816069866.)

Reports of Palestinians losing their businesses which they built over many years, properties, factories, offices, etc. were rampant. These measures by the Kuwaitis against Palestinians had devastating economic effects and deprived the latter of a huge financial source. Other Gulf states which sided with Kuwait during the invasion took similar measures against the Palestinian

communities in their respective countries but not as severe.

The invasion of Kuwait had a crushing impact on the already depleted and highly indebted Iraqi economy as the country was ordered to pay huge economic reparations for numerous claimants who were identified as being impacted by it. On February 9, 2022, Reuters reported that the UN declared that Iraq paid its last chunk of $52.4 billion Gulf War reparations. to compensate

individuals, companies and governments who proved damages due to its 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait, the United Nations reparations body said on Wednesday. In all, about 2.7 million claims, with an asserted value of $352.5 billion were lodged, but the UNCC approved payment of $52.4 billion covering 1.5 million successful claims.

The largest claim approved by the UNCC was for $14.7 billion in damages incurred by the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) after departing Iraqi troops set fire to oil wells.

Iraq missiles on Israel during the Gulf war

So much was made of Saddam’s carrying out his threat of striking Israel with missiles by those who viewed him with fondness. It is, they argued, the most potent evidence of his commitment to the Palestinian cause and his love of its people. In addition, he is the only Arab leader who dared to challenge the jewish state and hit its capital.

Patriot missiles being launched to intercept an Iraqi Scud missile over the city of Tel Aviv.


Throughout the entire Gulf War air campaign, Iraqi forces fired approximately 42 Scud missiles into Israel from 17 January to 23 February 1991 (Arens, Moshe (12 February 2018). “27 years

since the Gulf War – why didn’t Israel respond?”. The Jerusalem Post (opinion). Retrieved 6 May 2021.) The strategic and political goal of the Iraqi campaign was to provoke an Israeli military response and potentially jeopardize the United States-led coalition against Iraq, which had full backing and/or extensive contributions from an overwhelming majority of the states of the

Muslim world and would have suffered immense diplomatic and material losses if

Muslim-majority states rescinded their support due to the political situation of the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Despite inflicting casualties on Israeli civilians and damaging Israeli infrastructure, Iraq failed to provoke Israeli retaliation due to pressure exerted by the United States on the latter to not respond to “Iraqi provocations” and avoid any bilateral escalations

( Gross, Judah Ari. “‘We’re going to attack Iraq,’ Israel told the US. ‘Move your planes'”. The Times of Israel. Retrieved 6 May 2021.)

The Iraqi missiles were predominantly aimed at the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Despite numerous missiles being fired, a number of factors contributed to the minimisation of casualties in Israel (Lews, George; Fetter, Steve; Gronlund, Lisbeth (1993). “CASUALTIES AND DAMAGE FROM SCUD ATTACKS IN THE 1991 GULF WAR” (PDF). MIT Defense and Arms Control

Studies Program. Retrieved 31 May 2021.)

The number of casualties killed by the Iraqi missiles were 2 civilians directly (some suggest was in fact only one), and 11-74 killed from incorrect use of gas masks, heart attacks, and incorrect use of the anti-chemical weapons drug atropine (Keinon, Herb (17 January 2021). “The day Israel’s wars changed forever”. The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 1 March 2022.) A total of 4,100 buildings were damaged and at least 28 of those buildings destroyed. The area that sustained the most damage was the city of Ramat Gan (Lews, George; Fetter, Steve; Gronlund, Lisbeth (1993). “CASUALTIES AND DAMAGE FROM SCUD ATTACKS IN THE 1991 GULF WAR” (PDF).

MIT Defense and Arms Control Studies Program. Retrieved 31 May 2021.)

A UN committee handling claims against Iraq for reparations has approved more than $31 millions in compensations for the missile attacks (New York Times April 15, 1999.)

In 2001, the United Nations Compensation Commission awarded $74 million to Israel for the

costs it incurred from Iraqi Scud missile attacks during the Gulf War. The Commission rejected most of the $1 billion that Israel had requested (Jerusalem Post, (January 17, 1992.)

In the end, the total amount paid by Iraq to Israel was in fact 122 million dollars as was reported by Haaretz on January 22, 2002.  And immediately after the war, Israel was paid $650 million for not retaliating against Iraq when it was hit by the missiles (New York Times, March 6, 1991.)

In all accounts the war ended really badly for the palestinians in which directly by losing the financial support Kuwait provided and indirectly by eliminating any role the Iraqi army might play in any future conflicts with Israel. The current Iraqi army which was built after the invasion in 2003 is more of a local police prone to protecting the country from disintegrating rather than to protect it from external aggressions.

Saddm’s special treatment of the Palestenians

This section will list what the government of Sadam did to the Palestenians since coming to power in 1968 till its fall in 2003 after the American invasion. Discussion of this record will be discussed at the end of the section.

In 1968 the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party revolution took place in Iraq, and a number of articles in favor of the Palestinians were issued by the Revolutionary Council in 1969 (Al-Ali, 2014 p.

200-201.) These include;

  • People’s Sunni complexes have been established that meet all health conditions and remain owned by the state. The Palestinian throughout his stay in Iraq is not entitled to buy land or ask for real estate cooperative loans.
  • In 1971, a decision was issued according to which the Palestinian was allowed to train until he for the position of director.
  • In 1973, the Iraqi government approved a set of laws regulating the lives of Palestinians in the These laws marked a nuclear shift in Iraq’s dealings with the Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian is equal to the Iraqi in terms of treatment and in all rights and duties, with the exception of possession of citizenship and political rights, such as the right to vote and run for office (Al-Iraqi 02006).

  • A decision was issued by the RCC in 1980 granting the Palestinian resident permanent residence in Iraq a house for sale, provided that the house is registered in the name of the Ministry of Finance.
  • In 1983, Palestinians had to obtain approval from the General Authority for Employment. when he wants to work or when he moves to another job, even from private work.
  • A Palestinian residing permanently in Iraq may own a plot of land for cultivation of crops
  • In 1987, but after two years of that: “The laws and decisions that allow Non-Iraqi owning real estate or investing his money in companies in Iraq and everything related to ownership or invest in any way.
  • President Saddam Hussein issued it in 1997 permitting any Palestinian who is a member of the Baath party to own a piece of land.
  • President Saddam Hussein issued Resolution No. (202) two years before the fall of Baghdad, according to which the Palestinian residing in Iraq had several advantages, including: (Sall

Rarron 2009 AD 12).

  • Issuing the an identity card for the Palestinian refugees
  • Issuing travel documents enabling refugees to travel outside Iraq.
  • Exempting refugees from school and college tuition fees.
  • Free medical insurance for Palestinians in Iraq.
  • Disbursement of financial aid to refugees.
  • Free accommodation to all refugees

From the foregoing, it shows, at least on the surface, that a Palestinian refugee in Iraq, was enjoying the same rights of any Iraqi citizen.

Palestinians had access to free education and work, and they were also able to work and own a house, and the privileges continued until the occupation of Iraq by the American army in 2003 In which they find themselves deprived of all these rights.

In fact, this generosity towards the Palestenains in time of suffocating sanctions and crushing

economic conditions which Iraqis experienced and specially in the south of the country, caused so much resentments toward the Palestenians who were perceived as agents of Saddam. This phenomenon coupled with the continuous proposals to settle Palestinians permanently in Iraq, built so much anger, hatred, and resentments on the other side.  And during the peak of the

sectarian strife in 2004 and on, Palestinians, whose vast majority are sunni Muslims, were also perceived as an element of the population used by Saddam to dilute the Shiit majority there.

Palestinians were also accused of turning blind eyes to the well known and documented ruthlessness and brutality of Saddam’s regime and in some cases were in fact acting as willing and paid informants for his many security agencies where are torture and death were som

common. Furthermore, they were also accused of participating in the crushing of the popular uprising against him in 1991 after the crushing defeat in Kuwait.

Palestinians, who claimed to be members of the Baath party were accused of utter hypocrisy as they in fact didn’t believe in the principals of the party and only joined in the reap the many benefits such membership will bring to them.

Iraqis watched in total disbelief as a prominent Islamist figures like Abdel Azziz Al Rantisi, who was briefly the head of Hamas before he was killed by Israel, holding a huge funeral in Gaza for Saddam’s sons Oaday and Qusay after they were killed by the Americans in Mosul, Iraq.

Especially in the case of Oaday, who was a well known thug and who never hid his accesses of drinking, womanizing, and partying (that is is addition to his reputation as a ruthless murderer), it was really hard to watch Al Rantisi and the upper leadership of Hamas, a staunch islamist movement, to glorifying such a figure even if he was killed by the Americans.

Iraqis who lived in Jordan after fleeing Iraq spoke with dismay as palestinian shops and businesses display huge portraits of the late Iraqi leader, and publicly state that all what they have in terms of financial assets are what was given to them by him. Certainly such statements were met with anger by Iraqis who lived in abject poverty and crushing economic conditions and were forced to leave their homeland in search of a living. This was similar to the feeling of Iraqis who watched Palestinians living in the best neighborhoods of Baghdad in free housing

while they had absolutely nothing.

At the end, the special treatment of the Palestinians by Saddam whether it is genuine as it is generally regarded by Arabs in general and Palestenians in particular or opportunistic to be sued against the Shiit, ended any valuable presence of them in Iraq and generated so much resentment

and in due process eliminated any possible help from the majority of the population in Iraq towards the Palestinian cause.

The Intifada and suicide bombers 

If there is one single thing Palestenians remember Saddam for is his unwavering support to the Intifada and the “martyrs” of suicide bombing.

On November 20, 2000, the Globe and Mail published an article under the title “Saddam offering ‘martyrs’ payment” detailing how Saddam was becoming so popular among Palestinians and his pictures were everywhere because of his generous support to those killed in the Intifada.

On March 12, 2002, The Midland Daily New reported on this issue in an article under the heading of “Saddam Gives Money to ‘Martyr’ Families” stating the following A defiant Saddam Hussein, under intense international scrutiny for possible ties to terrorism, this week distributed

$225,000 to 21 families of Palestinians killed in fighting with Israel, including $25,000 to the family of a Hamas suicide bomber. 

In all, Iraq has paid more than $35 million to families of militants _ including relatives of scores of suicide bombers _ and slain Palestinian civilians in support of the 29-month-old Palestinian uprising against Israel. 

Saddam has not tried to hide the payments, disbursing the money in public ceremonies organized by the Arab Liberation Front, a tiny pro-Iraqi faction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

Checks of $10,000 were handed out in a packed banquet hall in Gaza City on Wednesday _ even as the United States was trying to persuade the U.N. Security Council support to use military force to disarm Iraq and oust Saddam. Washington has accused Saddam of supporting terrorism. 

Ibrahim Zaanen, the Arab Liberation Front leader in Gaza, said the Iraqi payments are a show of Arab solidarity against Western aggression. 

A total of 26 families were supposed to receive checks totalling $275,000 on Wednesday, but five families did not appear and would receive their money later, ALF officials said. 

The 26 slain Palestinians whose families were receiving money included 23 civilians, two gunmen and a suicide bomber. 

The payments have made Iraq popular among many Palestinians who feel they have been abandoned by other Arab countries in their conflict with Israel. Most Palestinians oppose a U.S.

offensive against Baghdad as unjustified, though many also consider Saddam to be a cruel dictator.”

In an article entitle “Saddam stokes war with suicide bomber cash” on March 26, 2002, the Sydney Mornining Herald stated “The hall was packed and the intake of breath was audible as a special announcement was made to the war widows of the West Bank – Saddam Hussein would pay $US25,000 ($47,000) to the family of each suicide bomber as an enticement for others to

volunteer for martyrdom in the name of the Palestinian people. 

The men at the top table then opened Saddam’s checkbook and, as the names of 47 martyrs were called, family representatives went up to sign for cheques written in US dollars. 

Those of two suicide bombers were the first to be paid the new rate of $US25,000 and those

whose relatives had died in other clashes with the Israeli military were given $US10,000 each. 

The $US500,000 doled out in this impoverished community yesterday means that the besieged Iraqi leader now has contributed more than $US10 million to grieving Palestinian families since the new intifada began 18 months ago.” 

This unconditional support to the Palestenains came in during incredibly difficult times Iraqis were undergoing from suffocating sanctions and the mounting threat of an American invasion.


Palestinians at large have a great affinity towards the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussin who ruled Iraq from 1968 to 2003 and remember him as a steadfast defendant of Palestinian rights who ultimately gave his life for their cause and struggle. This writer attempted to show that Saddam’s actions, as in the case of the Iraq/Iran war, the invasion of Kuwait, and the much-celebrated hitting of Israel with missiles, or lack thereof, as in the case of Black September in 1970, caused much bigger damage to the Palestinian plight than what it actually known. And even the small gestures of financial materialistic rewards given to the Palestenains, these did much more damage than good and generated lasting resentments against them by some segments of the Arab population.

*Nadum Jwad is freelance political writer who lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada June 20, 2023