Forty Years Ago ...
On July 17th, 1968, the Ba'ath Party in Iraq seized power in a bloodless coup d'etat that put General Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr into power. Though the Ba'athists first came to power in Iraq five years earlier, internal divisions that discredited the party had them eased out within a matter of months.
1968 was different. While al-Bakr was a popular national figure, his deputy (Saddam Hussein) was the muscle behind the scenes -- emerging as the party strongman, using his influence to heavily militarize the organization, and eventually supplanting al-Bakr as the leader of Iraq. July 17th was celebrated as "Iraqi National Day" and "Revolution Day" until Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
While Saddam capitulated to Kurdish autonomy early in the Ba'athist reign (because they lacked the military force to defeat them), he ultimately used his force as a bludgeon to keep his subjects in check.
Iraq today has a far more promising -- albeit more politically challenging -- future.