Wasn't Saddam an ally of Russia?

If Russia wasn't his ally, who was his ally?

Syria is looking like a strong ally of Russia as it was the case of Serbia. Russians played direct roles to save these countries.

Then what was in Saddam's mind?

  • saqib - sorry accidentally edited the Q - will be reverted in a few mins
    – none
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 15:24
  • 2
    The United States was a strong supporter of Saddam Hussein all up until 1990.
    – user202
    Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 13:17

6 Answers 6


This is an interesting question.

With the benefit of hindsight, "Russia" wasn't in a position to help Saddam Hussein in 1990-91 because the Soviet was about to implode.

The reason it probably didn't help Hussein in 2003 was that they didn't believe that President George Bush Jr. would invade Iraq; his father, Bush Sr., had declined to march on Baghdad after winning the Persian Gulf War.

But the Iraq war was a "wakeup" call to Russia; it didn't want Syria to be the next country to fall under American influence.

  • +1 - Disagree on some details, but a good supportable analysis.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 18:03
  • OK. But they did respond very quickly in case of Serbia.
    – user806
    Commented Apr 19, 2012 at 8:23
  • 4
    It's easier for them to support Syria strongly because there's little likelihood of US military action in that situation. Strongly supporting Iraq (even if they'd wanted to) would have just made Russia look weak when Iraq got steamrolled by the USA anyway. If you can't win, it's often better not to get involved at all. (Compare how impotent the US objections appeared when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008.)
    – Nate C-K
    Commented Apr 19, 2012 at 15:42
  • I dislike your sentence "Russia invaded Georgia". Time to ask a question? :-)
    – astabada
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 17:43

Not to dismiss political philosophy, but pragmatism drives most behaviors in goverment-

  • Russia's only warm-water port (also the only one in the Mediterranean) is in Syria. It just got re-built.
  • Russia sells about $5 Billion worth of arms to Syria every year.
  • Syria willingly obliges Russia's pressure to confront Israel when called to do so.
  • "Helping Saddam" when the US invading Iraq would lead to direct military conflict with the US.

Russia was the ally of the socialist Baath party in Iraq, of which Saddam was a member. However, the Iran-Iraq war changed this allegiance. Since during the cold-war there were really only two poles (in military, economic, and ideological power), most countries allied with one or the other. This ultimately became a binary decision, as allying with one would require joining that ally's international "camp".

The Baath party in Iraq had initially been enthusiastic with the deposing of their enemy, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. However, when largely Shia Iran called for the overthrow of the minority Sunni-led Iraq, this sentiment obviously changed. The US obviously had their own animosity towards Iran as it had overthrown it's ally the Shah, and held Americans hostage. The US government was more than happy to supply Iraq with arms, including biological weapons, in their bloody fight with the Iranians. This lead to an alliance with the Americans at the expense of the Iraqi relationship with the Soviets.

While the Americans were hoping that both countries would demolish each other leading the way to weaker more controllable states, they would have much preferred the more secular government of Iraq to the anti-imperialist and militantly Islamic government of Iran. This is why after the war, the Americans continued to arm Iraq, despite Saddam using American chemical weapons to murder the rebellious Kurdish population.

Much of the reason that the Soviet Union did little to interfere in the 1980's was due to their weakening economic situation. When the first gulf war was initiated by the US in 1991, Russia was not in a position to resist. Furthermore, considering that the Americans were leading the global coalition to force Saddam out of Kuwait, any military assistance provided by the Russians could be seen in a negative light by the international community. Not to mention that any direct involvement would been seen as an act of war against the US, which would be very dangerous given the tenuous nuclear balance maintained between those countries.

  • Hmm. Mostly the same as my argument (and soon enough afterwards that it can be considered simultanious). My rule in such situations is that you get +1 for obvious genius. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 18:07
  • 2
    Implicit in your argument is that the US displaced the Soviet Union as the primary supplier of arms to Iraq during the 80s. That's extremely far from the case. During that period the soviets provided >60% of the total, vs <1% for the US. France and China provided the majority of the rest. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 19:27
  • The USSR was also busy fighting the war in Afghanistan while the Iran-Iraq war was going on.
    – Nate C-K
    Commented Apr 19, 2012 at 15:36
  • -1 per Dan Neely.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Apr 21, 2012 at 23:24
  • @DanNeely It says in the article that much of the US support was off the books and therefore not included in that database en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – James
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 23:03

The dynamics of the Cold War were such that every country outside of the Superpowers were strongly encouraged to take sides. If you were geographically close to one of them, you often didn't have a lot of choice who that was.

However, this opened oppertunity for the less ideologically rigid (and less scrupulous) to work both sides off each other to obtain the best deal. This is essentially what Hussein did in Iraq. While Iran was a staunch US ally, he took support from Russia. However, after the revolution in the 70's, he sensed an oppertunity and started taking support from the USA too. During the Iran/Iraq war, Hussein was essentially acting as a USA client to keep Iran busy. I believe the (stupid) idea of starting the war was entirely Hussein's, but once engaged it was definitely in the USA's interest that Iraq do as well as possible in it.

The problem with a country taking this Realpolitik attitude is when the day comes that you aren't particularly useful to either side, things can get ugly. This is what happened to Hussein after the Iran/Iraq war ended. It pays to develop real friends.


If we speak about the second Iraq war, Russia dealt with the case of Iraq the same way as it dealt with Syria. They opposed the invasion and did not allow the Iraq invasion in the Security Council, but the USA just bypassed the SC.

Russia had no power and/or willingness to prevent the Iraq invasion by military means as this would mean a direct military conflict with the USA.

Regarding the first invasion in Iraq under Bush the father, there was a pro-US leadership in the USSR at the time (1991) so they were unwilling and unable to oppose. Also Iraq at the time invaded Kuwait which provided a better pretext for international condemnation and the anti-Iraqi UN SC resolution.


Syria is one of the few places in which Russian technology is field tested against Western technology on a regular basis. For instance, other than North Korea, Syria has the most advanced anti-aircraft systems in the world. This is often put to the test with Israeli jets. In 2007 I think an Israeli jet did manage to penetrate the air defences, and just a few weeks ago a suspected Israeli jet was shot down (it later turned out to be Turkish).

Also, Syria has an important Russian Mediterranean naval base.

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