Saturday, October 7, 2017

How Iraq Provinces Got Their Names During Baathist Cultural Campaign

Map of Iraq in 1990 after territorial and name changes to provinces (MR Izady)

After the Baath Party took power in 1968 it launched a cultural campaign to reshape the history, image and identity of Iraq. The focus of the campaign was on the uniqueness of Iraq based upon its ancient history. Some of its goals were to unite the country’s diverse population under a common mythology, instill pride in Iraqis based upon their uniqueness, and that this great past meant that Iraq should lead the rest of the Arab world. This led to changing the names of more than half of Iraq’s governorates.

In 1970, the Revolutionary Command Council decided to change the titles of eight of Iraq’s 16 provinces. Ramadi became Anbar after the capital under the first caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate. Kut was renamed Wasit, which was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate. Diwaniya was now Qadisiyah where a famous battle took place between the Arabs and Persians in 635 A.D. Samawa was henceforth Muthanna after a general who conquered Iraq from the Sassinds. Nasiriyah became Dhi Qar, which was a battle between the Arabs and Persians. Amarah was Maysan, the medieval name for the governorate. Last, Mosul became Ninewa from the ancient Assyrians. Later in 1976, Salahaddin was created out of Baghdad province and Tikrit was made its capital. Salahaddin was the famous Muslim general from the Crusades, and Tikrit was where he was born. Hillah was also renamed Babil from Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar. Again, the goal of these names was to foster pride in Iraqi history. It was meant to show that the nation dated back to the birth of civilization, and was therefore the greatest country in the world. Forging a national identity that united all of Iraq’s diverse people has always been a difficult one. The Baath campaign would soon run into problems with the Kurds and Shiites, and be overshadowed by Saddam’s crimes. The names remain however, and at least for many Arabs in Iraq there is still talk of Mesopotamia and other aspects of Iraq’s history, which is a result of this Baathist endeavor.


Baram, Amatzia, Culture, History and Ideology in the Formation of Ba’thist Iraq, 1968-89. New York: St Martin’s, 1991

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