Military masculinity and its discontents in Ba'thist Iraq

By Achim Rohde
Submitted to Session P4803 (The Conflicted Legacies of the Iran Iraq War, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries; Gender/Women's Studies; Middle East/Near East Studies; Queer/LGBT Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper discusses gendered effects of the Iraq-Iran war in Iraqi society. Although the mass recruitment of men as soldiers and fighters temporarily expanded spaces for women’s participation in the Iraqi public sphere, militarism and militarist discourse during the 1980s and afterwards have reinforced gender polarity and heroic forms of masculinity, marginalizing and degrading the noncombat social positionalities of the majority of men and women. My paper focuses on notions of masculinity and non-normative masculinities in Iraq.
Drawing on graphic art and poetry produced as part of a regime sponsored ‘culture of war’, I portray how war propaganda during the 1980s propagated a crude heroic and heterosexual military masculinity, including eroticized overtones designed to amplify its mobilizing effects. The Iraqi Ba’thist regime’s turn to religious revivalism and social conservatism in the 1990s was anticipated during the late war years, when it gave up on its cautiously reformist agenda regarding women’s rights, reiterated patriarchal norms and emphasized procreation and motherhood. The specific circumstances of this move exemplify the erosion of the regime’s original modernist agenda as a result of the war.
Still, despite the regime’s turn to religion and social conservatism, Iraqi society remained multiple in its gendered and sexual practices. Thus, the paper presents evidence that the regime tolerated the existence of a queer sub-culture in Baghdad and other city throughout the years of its rule, notwithstanding Saddam Hussein’s hostility towards ‘unmanly men’. I conclude by discussing the question how organized violence by Islamist actors against non-normative gender and sexual behaviors, enactments, and identities in post-Saddam Iraq is related to war experiences and the 'war culture' that was promoted during the 1980s.